ESPN's Hoge excited for his old coach, Dirk Koetter
Dirk Koetter has yet to coach his first game as Bucs coach, but we've already seen what a small world it is to be from Pocatello, Idaho, writing about Koetter's roots with friend and fellow NFL head coach Marvin Lewis.
Another cool NFL tie to Koetter's early days as a coach is former Steelers running back and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, who played football and basketball for Koetter at Highland High School in 1982-83, getting a glimpse of his offensive savvy and coaching talent.
"Dirk was a great coach from the onset because he was a good communicator," Hoge said by phone Tuesday, taking a break from analyzing NFL draft prospects for ESPN's "NFL Matchup" and other shows. "That was the first thing that separated him. Very composed, and back when I was in high school, we were doing pro-style stuff. Shifts and motions and playing under center and shotgun. All those things, he implemented in high school and then at the college level. He's one of the smartest coaches I've ever been around, just putting players in good position."
The Koetter and Hoge families intertwined much in Pocatello -- Hoge would go on to play for Koetter's father, Jim, at Idaho State before playing eight seasons in the NFL. His brother Marty, who played quarterback for Koetter in his first year as a head coach at Highland in 1983, still lives down the street from Koetter's parents; another brother Chris, won a state championship at Highland in 1987.
Hoge said Koetter has always had flexibility as a head coach, being comfortable to change his offensive scheme to fit the strengths and weaknesses of a given team's players.
"One of the most important things in a really good coach -- you have to have a plan, a philsophy, a foundation, but you have to be flexibile enough to mold it around the strengths of your players," said Hoge, who at 51 is only six years younger than Koetter.
Koetter has been coaching for more than three decades now, but few players can boast playing basketball for him, as Hoge could, saying he still remembers lessons he learned from Koetter on the hardwood.
"I probably learned more from him as a coach in basketball," Hoge said. "I had a tad bit of an attitude and he always had ways of putting me in perspective, getting me right when I was wrong. I've always thought of him as one of the greatest coaches I was ever around, and to experience it at such a young age is extremely rare."
The two remain friends -- they went to dinner at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, and Hoge said he expects to come to Tampa during OTAs and minicamps, just as he talked with Koetter's teams at Arizona State when he coached there. Koetter has had success as an NFL coordinator, and his old pupil thinks he can have the same success as an NFL head coach by surrounding himself with smart coaches.
"First and foremost, get a good staff around you. I always point to that -- it's so vital as a head coach," Hoge said. "That being said, he's a great communicator. That doesn't mean he talks all day long, either. He can say it with a few words. He has that makeup, and it'll be more vital now than it even was at the college level."