Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Despite reticent Dirk Koetter, word's out on Bucs' 1st practice

TAMPA — On the eve of the first training camp practice Wednesday night, Dirk Koetter stood in front of his team and talked for 27 minutes. But ask him to recall one line of that speech and he is reluctant to spit out a syllable.

"Do I have to go over the whole thing?" Koetter asked after the Bucs' first training camp practice Thursday. "I thought about it over the summer. A lot went into those 27 minutes. That's probably stuff we should probably keep to the team. It's all the stuff you would expect a coach to say to his team."

What makes Koetter popular among players and coaches is his unabashed sincerity and disdain for self-promotion, kind of what you would expect from a guy who spent the first half of his life near his hometown of Pocatello, Idaho.

At 57, he got a head coaching job in the NFL long after he probably thought that ship in the south end zone of Raymond James Stadium had sailed. He had been a head coach at Boise State and Arizona State, but that was a decade ago.

Koetter's success with quarterback Jameis Winston as the Bucs' offensive coordinator is a big part of why the Bucs tapped him on the shoulder to replace Lovie Smith. But now all eyes are on him, as they were Wednesday night in the auditorium at One Buc Place.

According to players, Koetter talked about competing hard every day but also understanding there are no winners or losers on every play. The idea is to make each other better, make the team better.

He talked about a lot of stuff first-time head coaches discuss. Be on time. Focus. Eliminate mistakes.

Then he told his players to feel good about the rope-a-dope they were about to put on the rest of the NFC South.

"Dirk basically said we're striving for a championship around here and we've got some good, good players," tackle Demar Dotson said. "We've got a young group of good players, and the outside world doesn't know how good this team is going to be. He stressed that we know it. It doesn't matter that they don't know it right now.

"We've got to keep building because we're not where we're supposed to be yet. But he said we're going to come out of that tunnel, Lord willing, when we play Atlanta Sept. 11 and then we're going to show the world."

Winston worked more closely with Koetter than any player on the team last season. And let's face it, you don't need the Russians to hack emails to know providing continuity for Winston is the biggest reason Koetter is the Bucs' head coach.

"I just love his mentality," Winston said. "He's a fierce competitor, and that's how I view myself when being a fierce competitor. And the team sees that, when he steps up and takes charge in front of us in team meetings, we're just like, 'That's our coach'. He sets the tempo for us."

During the first practice Thursday, Koetter was more of an observer than pulling all the strings, even on offense.

"I'm a little bit less involved" in the offense, Koetter said. "I try to stay involved out there, but we have a lot of good coaches. Todd Monken and George Warhop did the install for the offensive meeting (Wednesday) night (and) they did a great job. I sat in there and shoot, I was thinking, 'They don't need me in here.' I love offensive football, so it's hard for me to separate, but my role (has) definitely changed right now, and I'm learning as I go."

Occasionally, Koetter wandered over to the defensive side of the ball before retreating. His ability to hire a very experienced coaching staff, including former Falcons head coach Mike Smith as defensive coordinator, will allow him to continue to call offensive plays this season.

"I go over there because I like to watch some of the drills, but then I see Smitty over there and I go, 'Why am I over here? That's Smitty's job.' You've got to let your coaches coach. We've got a great coaching staff here."

Players seem to like Koetter's direct approach. He holds them accountable, and you don't have to be a mind reader to know where you stand.

"Dirk has that player-coach feel, but you've got to respect him because he tells you what he wants and he demands it out of you," Dotson said. "But also he keeps it loose around here. Nobody is tight. You're not walking around here scared to do something. He lets you be a man, he lets you be a pro but he demands that respect from you."

That may be true, but unless you are a player, getting Koetter to talk about his team speech Wednesday night was a lost cause.

"I've got a lot of ground to cover with these guys about training camp, where we're trying to go and how we plan to get there," he said. "That's something I don't need to be tooting our horn on that. That stuff will work itself out."

Okay then, if it's not too much trouble, maybe you can tell us how the first day went?

"Day 1 was fine. Are you kidding me?" Koetter said. "Everybody is excited on Day 1. Great to be out here. Awesome to have the kids out. It's a start. It's the start of the journey."

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