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Jones: Bucs make right move keeping coach Dirk Koetter

 
LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times  Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
Published Dec. 29, 2017

Dirk Koetter is returning as head coach of the Bucs next season. That's one way to put it.

Here's another way, the more accurate way: Dirk Koetter isn't getting fired.

The news came down Friday afternoon.

Surprising? Yeah, you bet. One more stinker on Sunday and the Bucs will finish the season with six consecutive losses and a 4-12 record. Those are the kind of dreadful numbers that get people fired in this business, especially when expectations were as high as they were this season for the Bucs.

Popular? Probably not. Bucs fans are sick of losing. They want someone to pay for this trash-bin fire of a season and when fans grab their pitchforks and torches, the coach is usually the guy run out of town. When the team is crummy, fans fall in love with the next coach even if they don't know who that next coach is.

So, to review, most figured Koetter wouldn't be back, and many aren't happy that he will be.

But is it the right thing to do?

Yes, I say, with some reservations. Changes need to be made, and we'll get to that in a second.

But, all in all, yeah, Koetter deserves another year, and it's good to see that the Glazers realize that.

Now, before we pat the Glazers on the back just yet, a couple of things.

Maybe Jon Gruden didn't want this job after all. Maybe — maybe — the Glazers, hat in hand, knocked on Gruden's door and had it slammed in their faces. Maybe Gruden figures it's a whole lot better being in the Bucs' Ring of Honor than being their head coach. Maybe he thinks calling games for Monday Night Football sounds a lot more fun than teaching quarterback Jameis Winston how to stop handing the ball to the other team.

Or maybe the Glazers are sick and tired of paying guys not to coach. They did that for Gruden and Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith and, doggone it, they weren't about to do it for Koetter.

Whatever the reason, keeping Koetter is the smart thing to do.

You can't keep blowing out coaches every other year and expect to win. At some point, you do need some continuity, some consistency.

Besides, Koetter is the exact same coach who went 9-7 a year ago, isn't he? He's the same coach who had the Bucs off to a 2-1 start this season and were one completion away from beating the Patriots. This is the coach who had his team in most every game this season, especially of late. The Bucs easily could have won their past four.

The point being: The Bucs have done some good things under Koetter. And while Winston can be so frustrating to watch because of his occasional brain cramps protecting the football, he has shown moments of brilliance, particularly when he has been healthy, and you have to think Koetter has something to do with that.

There are a bunch of reasons why the Bucs fell off the cliff this year, including injuries. But Tampa Bay's woes are more about talent than coaching.

The offensive line is shaky. They don't have a dependable running back. They can't rush the quarterback, something they really haven't been able to do since the Warren Sapp-Simeon Rice Super Bowl days. They have trouble in their secondary because Vernon Hargreaves hasn't panned out.

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And don't get us started on the kicking game.

Whose fault is all that? The general manager. Jason Licht should be on the clock before Koetter. Now, this isn't to suggest that Licht get the pink slip instead. He has done enough, including a strong 2017 draft class, that he still deserves to call the shots at One Buc Place, at least for a little while longer. But Koetter can only work with the players he has, and right now, the players simply aren't good enough.

That doesn't mean Koetter is blame free.

Should he give up the play-calling? Should he replace defensive coordinator Mike Smith? Should he change the music during practice and rearrange the furniture in his office and sit in a different seat on the team charters?

Hey, everything is on the table at this point. You can't keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results.

I'd let him continue calling plays because, after all, that's why he's in the game of football to begin with. But he does need to do some serious editing in his playbook.

Look, there's certainly a risk bringing him back. Here's the fear. The Bucs were awful this season. Something was just off about the whole thing. What happens if they start next season 1-3, and it has the same vibe as this year? Then there goes another season down the drain.

But the greater fear is switching coaches, starting over from scratch and being back in this exact same spot two years from now. That has been the Bucs' recent history.

Better to give Koetter one more year to sort it all out. Maybe he fixes Winston's turnover issues. Maybe Licht gets him help on defense. Maybe a running game jazzes up his play-calling. Maybe he turns this thing around and a year from now, the Bucs are headed to the playoffs.

If not, the Glazers still have Gruden's phone number.