TAMPA — Bucs fans can vouch for Dirk Koetter's skills as an offensive coordinator, but as the 56-year-old makes his case to be Tampa Bay's next head coach, you have to go back a decade to check his record running a team of his own.
Before his current run of nine seasons as a successful NFL coordinator, Koetter rose through the college ranks, spending three years as head coach at Boise State, then six at Arizona State, amassing a 66-44 record.
"It was awesome. We had a great run together," said receiver Derek Hagan, who had three 1,000-yard seasons with the Sun Devils, then played eight years in the NFL. "He was able to relate to the players, and he was a heck of a football mind. He got players that wanted to play for him and motivated them, put players in the right situations to make plays."
That has been the case in the NFL, where he has helped three different teams rank in the top 10 in total offense: The Jaguars, the Falcons twice and the Bucs, who were fifth in the league in 2015, setting a franchise record for total offense.
His roots were as a college assistant, as he went from San Francisco State to UTEP to Missouri to Boston College to Oregon before becoming Boise State's head coach in 1998. He helped elevate the Broncos to the national power they became, getting 10 wins in each of his last two seasons.
"There's no doubt he knows football — that was pretty obvious when he first came in," said Bart Hendricks, who started for Koetter all three seasons at Boise State and threw for 35 touchdowns against eight interceptions as a senior in 2000. "What was great about him as a head coach was he knew his limitations — he let his coaches do what they needed to do."
At Arizona State, Koetter took the Sun Devils to bowls in four of his last five seasons, but was fired after the 2006 season. ASU had gotten as high as No. 14 in the national polls, but was unable to crack into the very top of the Pac-10 Conference. Koetter went 4-2 against rival Arizona, but also was 2-19 against ranked opponents.
Can Koetter carry his success as an NFL offensive coordinator to head coach?
UTEP athletic director Bob Stull has known Koetter since 1986 — he hired him and a young Andy Reid as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at UTEP, then brought them with him to Missouri in the same roles.
"Dirk's very bright. One of the best quarterback coaches in the country, and a bright, innovative offensive coordinator," Stull said. "More than that, Dirk relates really well with players, and is very detailed. He and Andy both were very detailed in their preparation — you never had to worry about that. They were so detailed and so prepared, and that's what it's all about in the NFL."
Bucs general manager Jason Licht called Koetter a "very strong candidate" to succeed Lovie Smith, who was fired Wednesday after a 8-24 record in two seasons. Koetter also has interviewed with the 49ers for their vacancy, putting him in position to potentially make another major leap in his coaching career.
"I think he'd be fantastic," said Stull, 70, in Phoenix on Monday night to watch the national championship and Alabama's Nick Saban, who was once a graduate assistant with him at Kent State. "I thought he'd be a head coach earlier. I think he's prepared himself well, and when you look at the scope of NFL potential head coaches, he's got to be at the very top."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.