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Dirk Koetter saw it coming

The Bucs fired Dirk Koetter on Sunday after their season-ending loss to Atlanta. Koetter's comments this season were an indication he saw it coming.
MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter leaves the field after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the New Orleans Saints on December 9, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the New Orleans Saints 28 to 14.
MONICA HERNDON | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter leaves the field after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the New Orleans Saints on December 9, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the New Orleans Saints 28 to 14.
Published Dec. 31, 2018
Updated Dec. 31, 2018

TAMPA — In the NFL, the head coach serves as the messenger to the fans. In many situations, he's the most visible voice of the franchise. He's the one member of the organization who is front and center nearly every day, answering for his team whether things go well or wrong.

Over the years, the Bucs have gone different ways with their head coaching hires. From Tony Dungy to Jon Gruden to Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith, they've selected a variety of personalities to serve as the franchise's voice.

In hiring Dirk Koetter three years ago, the hope was that his  strong offensive mind could make the Bucs a winner. And indeed, Koetter — who was fired Sunday after a season-ending loss to the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium— was knowledgeable. He could break down the game well, but once the X's and O's failed him this season, his communication flaws became evident in this lost season.

Koetter was well-liked by his players. He was respected for his football knowledge and being a straight shooter, players said.

"He always keeps it real with us," receiver Chris Godwin said after Sunday's game. "As players, we respect that a lot."

Being the Bucs spokesman was never a duty Koetter really enjoyed. He was good enough with fans, respectful and engaging in his interactions with the base, but he was also uncomfortable revealing too much of his personality and saw his media responsibilities as a chore he'd rather be without.

When Koetter was hired, he reluctantly allowed the Bucs to send a camera crew to his hometown of Pocatello, Idaho, but still didn't understand the reason why the team would want to delve so much into his life.

Still, Koetter had his moments of open honesty, sometimes letting his feelings out to a fault. Remember, he is the coach who said the Glazer family had "courage" for keeping him for the 2018 season, which was as head-scratching a statement you could hear from a head coach.

That frankness showed down to his final practice of the season Friday.

"If you've ever been in that position where your future was unsettled, it's just not the most comfortable feeling," Koetter said. "Also, we picked it. We picked the profession."

After the Bucs were waxed at Chicago 48-10 in the worst loss of the season, Koetter called for his own firing in his postgame press conference.

"Based on that game today, we couldn't make enough changes," Koetter said. "We should fire every person that was on that field today, starting with me. That was horrific."

The response was in part a defense of embattled defensive coordinator Mike Smith, whom Koetter would fire two weeks later after another horrid outing against Atlanta.

Four weeks later, Koetter decided to take over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Todd Monken for the day and the Bucs were held out of the end zone despite five trips into the opponent's 20-yard line in a 16-3 loss to Washington. After that game, Koetter had more frank talk in the Bucs locker room.

"Coach said, 'I don't have the answer. If I did, we'd do it,' " tackle Demar Dotson said.

Koetter's communication was at its best when he was explaining nuances of the game. He didn't shy away from being second-guessed. He never shied away from revealing his reasoning behind a play, even when his rationale was odd, like when he reasoned why he took a delay of game penalty on a fourth-and-1 play at the two-yard line in last week's loss in Dallas.

"I did think about the timeout and I saw the clock," Koetter said. "We were going to throw it anyway, so I just didn't know about using the timeout, and sometimes being back further gives you more route options anyway, so, I also thought we were going to get the ball snapped. So, we didn't do a good job there."

Monken, who obviously had a closer glimpse to Koetter the communicator, said his head coach was always consistent with the team, whether it was players or staff.

"From start to finish, the message never changes," Monken said. "He's always upfront with our guys in terms of what the expectations are, which is all you can ask for. There is no double message – not with us or for them."

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.