Dirk Koetter held a piece of paper with a few scribbled notes and the future of the Bucs organization in his hands after being introduced as their head coach Friday. The only thing more unexpected than getting his first chance to be the boss of an NFL team at 56 years old was what happened when he began to talk about that journey. Known for his controlled passion, he suddenly wasn't able to hold onto it.
Maybe it was the pain medication wearing off from a hip replacement he had last week. Or seeing his wife, Kim, and two of their four children in the auditorium at One Buc Place. But as Koetter (pronounced cutter) began to speak about his parents, Jim and Barbara, watching back in Pocatello, Idaho, he lost a fight with his emotions.
"First, you know, it's emotional, a day like this. It's one of the happiest days of my life but also one of the most humbling," Koetter said. "It's been a long time, a long time in the making.
"There's 32 of these jobs in the world. I know I can do the job, even though I'm whimpering around a little bit up here today. I'm a little tougher than I've been coming across so far. I'm ready for it. Nothing that is said here today is going to affect us one bit in wins and losses. That all comes later. There's a lot of work to be done."
After nine seasons in the NFL as an assistant, Koetter said he already had "the best job in the world" as the Bucs offensive coordinator before the team fired head coach Lovie Smith Jan. 6, three days after completing a 6-10 season.
Koetter had just returned home from the hospital after his second hip replacement surgery and was sitting on the couch with Kim when shortly after 10 p.m. the kids' phones began humming about Smith's dismissal.
"We were shocked and disappointed," Koetter said. "Saddened by that news."
At the time, he had no way of knowing general manager Jason Licht was assembling a list of head coaching candidates and Koetter's name was on the top of it. It was more than his work with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, who joined Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as the only rookies to pass for 4,000 yards.
Licht had worked with some great head coaches — Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Jimmy Johnson and Bruce Arians among them — and believed Koetter had some of the same qualities.
"He's got bits and pieces of all of them," Licht said. "Every coach is unique. The most important ones right now that I thought of during the process was he's authentic, he's passionate, and he's a very, very intelligent offensive coach."
Although his time will be more constrained, Koetter said he will continue to be the offensive play-caller and keep most of the offensive coaching staff. The Bucs finished fifth overall in total offense and set a franchise record with more than 6,000 yards.
"Roles are going to have to be juggled around a little bit, but there's already a model that exists in the NFL for the head coach is the play-caller," Koetter said. "And I will continue to be the play-caller for the Bucs. There's a lot of hard work that goes into football. One of my favorite parts of football is the strategy and game management part and play-calling part. I think I would be foolish to give that up."
The bigger challenge will be improving the 26th ranked scoring defense.
On Friday, Koetter announced he was bringing in another silver fox to become defensive coordinator — former Falcons coach Mike Smith, who will continue running a 4-3 defense. Koetter worked with Smith in Jacksonville and for three seasons in Atlanta.
Koetter, who was a head coach at Boise State and Arizona State, said he was never focused on getting an NFL head coaching job. "I had the greatest job in the world. Through the powers that be, it got bumped up a little bit," Koetter said. "Going back to my parents. My parents always told me you do a great job where you're at. You do a great job and play your role and you do what you're supposed to do and the rest works itself out."
As the head coach and play-caller, he said he plans to be more aggressive when the Bucs have the ball.
"I will say when you're the head coach and you're the play-caller, you have a license to be a little bit more aggressive," he said.
Licht is eager to see Koetter's no-nonsense, straight-talking effect on the entire football team.
"He's got a very matter of fact way about him, which I like," Licht said. "He doesn't mince words. He comes in and you say, 'What do you think about this?' And he says, 'I think that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.' I walk out and I've been 'Koettered.' That's a little saying I have going on."
The Bucs can plan on being Koettered about beating themselves with turnovers and leading the NFL in penalties last season. He noted that Smith's Falcons' teams were the least-flagged in the NFL three straight years.
Everything in Koetter's life has revolved around sports. His son Davis is a junior quarterback and basketball player at Berkeley Prep. His daughter Kaylee played and now coaches volleyball at the University of Tampa. His other daughter Kendra is a freshman volleyball player at Georgia Southern while his oldest son, Derek, is a student manager for the women's team at Missouri.
Koetter he knew he wanted to be a coach from age 5. His father coached multiple state high school football championship teams in Idaho and won a national title at Idaho (I-AA) State.
"I grew up wanting to be my dad from the time I was very little," Koetter said. "And my dad coached every sport. Football, basketball, track. I saw what that was like from the time I was tiny. In those days, that was lining the fields, cutting the grass, fixing the helmets, washing the uniforms, 16 millimeter film on the kitchen table. Long, hard days. Jayvee games, varsity games, weight room, teaching guys how to squat. Buried in a basement. Playbooks, notepads, napkins, plays all over the place. Every coaching book every written was in our basement. I'm a football coach."