Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Koetter has Jameis Winston. Can he handle the rest?

Old offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is the new head coach of the Bucs, so let's get right to the heart of the matter, shall we?

The news isn't as sexy as hiring Nick Saban or as intriguing as Jim Harbaugh or as interesting as Bill Cowher.

But here are the only adjectives you care about: good or bad. Is this a good hire or a bad one?

You might not like the answer, but here is it: None of us has the first darn clue.

Hiring an NFL coordinator with no NFL head coaching experience can go either way.

Koetter might be the next Mike Tomlin or Mike McCarthy or Sean Payton — coordinators who have taken over NFL teams and won Super Bowls.

Or, he might be the next Rob Chud­zinski or Mike Pettine or Steve Spagnuolo — coordinators who should have stayed coordinators because they immediately drove their head coaching careers, as well as their teams, straight into a ditch.

But this much is true: If you have a quarterback, you have a chance, and this hire is all about quarterback Jameis Winston. Happy quarterback makes for a happy team and this hire should make Winston happy. This is his coordinator. This is the guy who led Winston through a very productive rookie season. And now he will continue to lead Winston.

Notice the word "continue.'' Continuity is what matters here. Winston won't have to learn a new offense or new terminology. There is no starting from scratch with an unknown coordinator with strange language and a different way of doing things.

Instead, the Bucs hope their quarterback picks up where he left off last year, and that will be much easier to do with Koetter, who knows Winston well, driving the offense and a playbook, which Winston knows well, serving as the owner's manual.

But this won't be as smooth and simple as Koetter moving over one parking space and changing the title on his office nameplate. He will have way more responsibility than he did last season.

In 2015, his workload consisted of developing the rookie Winston into a good NFL quarterback and figuring out how to get the ball from Point A (the line of scrimmage) to Point B (the end zone). That's it. That's all he had to do.

Now, as head coach, Koetter will still be in charge of developing Winston and driving the offense, but he also will be saddled with a whole new set of responsibilities. That will include getting the Bucs from Point A (last place in the NFC South) to Point B (the playoffs).

No longer is he just in charge of the offense, but the defense and special teams, too. Now he makes the tough decisions. Go for it on fourth and 1? Call timeout now? Fake punt here?

And it's not just football anymore. Now it's about dealing with 53 players and coaches and staff, and all the personalities and problems that come with them. Now it's about dealing with the media on a daily basis. He has to navigate his way through the front office and ownership and sponsors.

Last season he was simply a guy in a visor who wore a headset and called plays. Now he represents and is the voice for the biggest outfit in town.

See, that's what gets many coordinators. All these men know the game. They all know football. It's the other stuff that comes as a shock to the system and can be difficult to handle.

The one good thing is Koetter does have head coaching experience in college. Three years at Boise State and six at Arizona State at least gave him the feel for what it's like to be in charge of the whole shebang.

So, yes, there's a lot to be optimistic about when it comes to Koetter.

But Koetter comes with warning labels, too. He's 56 and has never been a head coach at this level. His recent comments dismissing analytics make you wonder if he is too rigid and resistant to finding new ways for success in today's NFL. His added duties might mean less time with Winston if he doesn't wisely budget his days.

And, well, there's this: With the Glazers' history, don't be surprised if we're back here in two years introducing another head coach and talking about how that guy is going to be just what the team needs after the Koetter era went south.

Here's how it works: You always hire the guy who is opposite of what you just had.

The fiery and offensive-minded Jon Gruden replaced the quiet and defensive-minded Tony Dungy.

A young defensive-minded Raheem Morris replaced the veteran, offensive-guru Gruden. The toes-on-the-line, no-nonsense Greg Schiano replaced the players-coach Morris. And the laid-back, player-friendly Lovie Smith took over for the stickler Schiano.

Now, here comes Koetter.

Smith was all about defense, while Koetter is offense. Smith was reserved, while Koetter can be a bit of a loose cannon.

Most of all, Smith lost way more games than he won, and the hope now is Koetter will win way more games than he loses.

Ultimately, however, an NFL coach's success usually boils down to whether or not he has a good quarterback. Show me a really good NFL quarterback and I'll show you a really good NFL coach. Show me a lousy NFL quarterback and I'll show you a coach about to be fired.

Koetter got his quarterback and that quarterback has Koetter.

Who knows if Koetter will work out, but that's why he was hired Thursday.

   
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