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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs nearing deal with OC Koetter to become head coach



The Bucs search for a new head football coach took them only a few steps down the hallway.

Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who joined Lovie Smith’s staff last season, is finalizing a deal to become the Bucs head coach, the Times confirmed.

General manager Jason Licht selected Koetter from two other known candidates who interviewed for the job: Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.

The Bucs could announce the hiring of the 56-year-old Koetter later tonight, eight days after Smith was dismissed. A news conference is expected on Friday.

The hiring of Koetter has been expected ever since the Bucs fired Smith last week. Licht called Koeter a 'strong candidate,' from the outset and keeps the best part of 2015 intact. The Bucs set a franchise record for total offense in his first season in Tampa, with quarterback Jameis Winston becoming just the third rookie quarterback ever to throw for 4,000 yards and running back Doug Martin earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors after finishing second in the NFL with 1,402 rushing yards.

"He put a good resume in front of him this year,'' Licht said last week. "Historically, it's the best offense we've had here in Tampa Bay. He's a good communicator. He's done great things with Jameis. There's a lot of good coaches out there, and Dirk is one of them."

In hiring Koetter, the Bucs opted for continuity for Winston, who overcame a slow start as a rookie to pass for 22  touchdowns, 15 interceptions and score six rushing touchdowns. The Bucs set a club record with more than 6,000 yards and finished fifth overall in total offense. But they floundered with slow starts down the stretch, scoring only two touchdown in the first half of their final four games.

The Bucs offense has benefitted from Licht concentrating the last two drafts on the that side of the football. Linebacker Kwon Alexander is the only defensive player to be selected since 2013. Receiver Mike Evans enjoyed  his second 1,000-yard season. Last year, the Bucs bolster their offensive line with rookie left tackle Donovan Smith, who started every game, and Hobart College guard Ali Marpet, who missed only three starts with an ankle injury.   

Koetter has been an NFL offensive coordinator since 2007, with three seasons in Jacksonville and five in Atlanta before joining the Bucs in 2015. He spent nine years as a head coach in college, going 26-10 at Boise State from 1998-2000, then 40-34 in six seasons at Arizona State. Koetter's teams went to bowl games in four of his last five seasons, but he also had a 2-19 record against ranked teams. Koetter is the Bucs' fifth coach since 2008, following Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith -- across the NFL, only the Browns and Raiders have had more coaches in that span.

The Bucs believe Koetter will provide them with a more antimated and vocal leader who will hold players and assistant coaches accountable.

Ironically, Koetter's biggest challenge will be to fix a defense the underperformed in two seasons under Smith. The Bucs finished 26th in scoring defense by allowing 26.1 points per game. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was told the team would not pick up his option for 2016. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen and linebacker coach Hardy Nickerson are the only main position coaches who have been retained on the defensive staff until Koetter has a chance to select his staff.

There already is speculation that former Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who also worked with Koetter in Jacksonville, could be a candidate for the defensive coordinator's job.

Koetter was unavailable for comment. But his daughter, Kaylee, expressed the family's excitement over the promotion on Twitter. "1st time a family meeting didn't (equal) a move. Always have and always will be so proud of my dad. Excited to still have family in Tampa. #GoBucs.''        

Tampa Bay hasn't been to the playoffs since 2007 and hasn't won a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl in January 2003. Smith was fired Jan. 6 with two years and $10-million remaining on his contract after going 8-24 in two seasons. The Bucs had improved from 2-14 in 2014 to a 6-6 record in December and playoff contention, but then lost the final four games of the season to finish 6-10 and in last place in the NFC South for the fifth year in a row.

[Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2016 8:40pm]


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