TAMPA — On the day he was introduced as the Bucs' head coach, Dirk Koetter addressed perhaps his biggest question mark, announcing during his introductory news conference Friday that former Falcons head coach Mike Smith will be his defensive coordinator.
Smith and Koetter worked together as coordinators in Jacksonville, and Smith hired him as his offensive coordinator in Atlanta, where they worked together from 2010-14. Their roles will be reversed, with Koetter saying that Smith's addition was a "huge hire," an experienced voice on his staff as a first-time NFL head coach.
"To get a coach with Mike's experience, not only as a defensive coordinator, as a teacher, as a head coach, but as a man, as the right kind of guy we want in front of our players every day, I couldn't be happier," Koetter said.
Smith, 56, went 66-46 as Falcons coach, including a 56-24 record in his first five seasons. Before that, he was a position coach on Baltimore's Super Bowl championship team in 2001, and spent five seasons as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator.
"Experience counts a ton in this league," Koetter said. "My first year in the NFL (in) Jacksonville, Mike Smith was the defensive coordinator, I was fortunate enough to be the offensive coordinator. We were both in the press box that year. I've never seen anybody like Mike Smith before. … Mike was hired by the Falcons the next year. We were never as good after we lost Mike Smith in Jacksonville."
STAFF CHANGES: Koetter said quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian will remain, along with a majority of the offensive assistants. He didn't specify whether Bajakian would remain in his current role or as offensive coordinator.
Koetter will have a completely new staff on defense. According to foxsports.com the Bucs won't retain defensive line coach Joe Cullen or linebackers coach Hardy Nickerson, instead hiring veteran Jay Hayes, who has been the Bengals' defensive line coach since 2003, and former Maryland coach Mark Duffner, who worked with Koetter and Smith in Jacksonville and will be the linebackers coach. Cullen moved on quickly, getting hired to the same role in Baltimore, Fox reported.
Another hire, according to Fox, is special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor, who was assistant special teams coordinator for the Jaguars when Koetter coached there from 2008-11. He has been the Titans' special teams coordinator the past three years.
THUMBS UP: DT Gerald McCoy said he liked the hire, saying that Koetter had all the presence of a head coach when he was only Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator last season.
"First time I met him, he had a coordinator/head coach's demeanor. I knew one day he would be a head coach, because that's how he carries himself," said McCoy, calling him a players' coach. "Great person overall, more than just being a great coach. I'm excited for the future. It's going to be fun."
Koetter said Friday that he was "a little bit hurt" by Lovie Smith's firing last week, and McCoy said promoting from within and making Koetter the coach will help a difficult transition in the locker room.
"Just from the chatter I've heard from my teammates, everybody's excited," McCoy said. "They feel like we got the right guy. If we were going to replace Coach Smith, we picked the right person. He won't have to worry about what's going on internally. He definitely will have support from us."
McCoy said Koetter was more involved with the offensive players, but those on the defensive side saw the way he handled the offense and had to be impressed.
"He was a huge asset for us," McCoy said. "Moving forward, with him having control of the entire team, it's going to be huge and it's going to be exciting."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.