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Fennelly: A sleeper pick for the Bucs' 'Hard Knocks' star

Lights, camera, Koetter!

Late next month, Hard Knocks crews will swarm One Buc Place, planting cameras and microphones here, there, everywhere.

The headliners? The smart money might be on Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Gerald McCoy. Or DeSean Jackson. Or Roberto Aguayo. Or rookie defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and his irresistible story. But I've got a sleeper pick.

The head coach.

Hard Knocks could be Dirk Koetter's first turn as a star in this league, even if he wants no part of that, just like most coaches. Koetter once described himself as the kind of retiring guy who ends up leaning against the wall at big parties.

But this isn't a party. This will be the man at work, in his element, a window into his approach. The outside world doesn't know a lot about Koetter, who didn't become an NFL head coach until he was about to turn 57.

"I'll be honest, once practice starts, I don't notice one person out there," Koetter said. "When we're practicing, I don't see jack. Now, the one thing about Hard Knocks, they put a (microphone) on you, so they tape it to your chest every day. For about the first two minutes, you know it's there. Then you forget it. We're working."

I'm counting on that.

Koetter had a limited on-screen role (on purpose) when he was offensive coordinator for the Falcons when HBO and NFL Films descended on Atlanta for the 2014 Hard Knocks. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith was Falcons head coach at the time. Smith was a coach with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 when they were the subject of the first Hard Knocks. Smith was with Jacksonville when NFL Films did a similar production several years ago.

"Dirk will be himself like we all are," Smith said. "It's a documentary. It's not a reality show."

"Now, what gets spit out, what comes out of my mouth, that you guys can't hear during practice, we'll have to see how that goes," Koetter said. "Hopefully, my mom's not embarrassed."

Just from last season, we know this is not a man who dresses up what he says. No wrapping paper. No ribbons. It's a straight-up approach, one his players have come to appreciate.

I remember Koetter tossing (now former Buc) Austin Seferian-Jenkins from an offseason practice last year because ASJ wasn't into it. He praised his players, but criticized, too, Jameis included. Koetter was quite frank about Aguayo's struggles. Look at Koetter on film in the locker room after the win at San Diego. He can be a live wire. And I remember Koetter choking up more than once while talking about his parents after being introduced as Bucs head coach.

There's something there. Koetter can appear wound a little tight, but there's something there. He tells it like it is and I sense a dry sense of humor. Football America might be about to discover that.

Koetter doesn't have to be Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who has become Joe Maddon cool after becoming a first-time NFL head coach in his 60s. A film about the 2016 Cardinals captured that. Koetter doesn't need to fall in love with the camera, as Rex Ryan did. Koetter doesn't need to be Jon Gruden, one of the great soundtrack coaches of all time. I will forever think someone missed the boat by not putting the eventual 2002 Super Bowl champion Bucs on Hard Knocks. Chucky, Sapp, Keyshawn, Brooks, Lynch, Barber, Rice and on and on. It would have been an everlasting gift.

Dirk Koetter doesn't want to be a star. And NFL coaches don't become stars unless their teams win a lot of games. But Koetter is my sleeper pick for Hard Knocks revelation. Because he'll be himself.

There's something there.

Must-see TV.

Contact Martin Fennelly at or 813-731-8029. Follow >@mjfennelly.>

Fennelly: A sleeper pick for the Bucs' 'Hard Knocks' star 06/14/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 11:01pm]
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