Licht: Koetter a 'very strong candidate' for Bucs job
TAMPA -- Bucs general manager Jason Licht said the team's owners made a careful decision to fire coach Lovie Smith after only two seasons, with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter a "very strong candidate" as the team opens the search for its next coach.
"We came in together two years ago with a shared vision of winning," said Licht, who worked hand in hand with Smith as the Bucs went 8-24. "We've all shared in the blame of that not happening. Today is not a day to dissect the failures, particularly of Lovie as a coach. It's to talk about the future, to talk about the next head coach of this football team."
Licht has never hired a head coach before, but was part of the Cardinals' hiring of Bruce Arians, a potential NFL Coach of the Year, three years ago, and said his experience in winning organizations has prepared him well for the challenge of making the right hire.
He said other teams -- reportedly the Dolphins, Eagles and 49ers -- have asked permission to speak with Koetter, and the Bucs are obligated to let him speak with those teams, even as the Bucs consider him for their own opening.
"Dirk Koetter is definitely one of those. He'll be a very strong candidate," Licht said, noting strong interest from candidates already for the opening. "He's got a strong resume. I had a chance to work with him day to day in the last year. I like Dirk. He's going to be a strong candidate. ... I think any coordinator, quarterback coach in that role with a quarterback, particularly Jameis (Winston) as a young quarterback, that's an important bond, a strong bond they need to have that was present. But we'll make the best decision for this football team, for the future."
Licht was careful to reiterate that the decision to fire Smith was not made in response to outside interest in Koetter, but only after the Glazer family finished their evaluation of the Bucs' 2015 season -- going 6-10, up from 2-14 a year ago, but also losing the final four games after putting the team in playoff contention at 6-6.
"Our ownership, I commend them on the fact that they take their time, they think things through, they don't make emotional decisions," Licht said. "They take in all the information. ... They presented to me what their recommendation was."
The Bucs will be on their fifth coach since 2008 -- Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Smith and their hire -- but Licht said the ownership had shown enough patience in what they saw from Smith's two seasons and the direction of the team.
"I think when you have eight wins in two years, three home wins in two years, I think they've been patient enough," he said. "It does take time, but I think while you're building a good football team, you can compete."