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Jones: Unfortunately, Bucs fans, the Gruden circus has left town

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter looks on during the second quarter. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter looks on during the second quarter. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Dec. 19, 2017

TAMPA – What a strange week it has been.

A strange, awkward and absolutely delicious week. Talk about fun. Well, about as fun as can be when you're talking about one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Around here, a goofy soap opera is about as good as it gets in a season like this.

There's Dirk Koetter, barely hanging on to his job while fighting off rumors that he can't get along with his starting quarterback.

Then there's Jon Gruden, going into the overcrowded Bucs' Ring of Honor while not exactly fighting off rumors that he's going to coach again someday.

All the while, the Bucs are ravaged by injuries and watching their underachieving season swirl down the toilet.

RELATED: All Eyes gallery: Tampa Bay puts up a real fight in loss to Atlanta

Throw all that in a bag, shake it up, bring Monday Night Football to town and you end up with some familiar, yet intriguing conversations about what will happen next around here.

Fire Koetter? Fire general manager Jason Licht? Bring back Gruden? Beg Tony Dungy to come back?

Hire Dungy, fire Dungy and re-hire Gruden?

Hey, on a week like this, nothing sounds too crazy. As Gruden was giving his thanks-everyone speech Monday night, one fan was seen holding up a sign that read "Gruden 2018.''

That has been pretty much the theme of the week. Some Bucs fans are trying to play matchmaker between the Bucs and Gruden even though we're still not sure Gruden wants to come back and even less sure that Koetter will be fired.

And, oh yeah, the Bucs are still playing games, too. Like Monday night. Another loss — this one a 24-21 decision to the Falcons.

Give the Bucs credit. They are not packing it in. They are giving effort. Monday was a pretty competitive game. The Bucs showed up. Then again, that's the least a professional football player can do, don't you think? But the point is they haven't given up on Koetter. Not yet.

Does that matter?

If the Bucs lose the rest — and that is more likely than not —– they would finish 4-12 on the season. That's ugly. Probably way too ugly for Koetter to survive.

If the Bucs win their last two — very unlikely at this point — they would finish 6-10. Still not pretty. But maybe just decent enough that Koetter could survive, especially if you want to make a case that Jameis Winston, who played his best game of the season Monday night, was banged up for part of this season.

Here's the thing, however: Won't Koetter be the exact same coach in two weeks as he is today regardless of how the Bucs finish? And isn't he the same guy who led the Bucs to a 9-7 record a year ago? Either way, I'm guessing the Glazers already have their minds made up about Koetter's future.

If they think he can't coach, he should be fired even if they win their last two. And if they believe he is the man for the job then the final two games, even if they are lost, shouldn't change that belief.

My gut tells me that Koetter isn't going to come back because that same gut tells me that Tampa Bay will lose the final two games and 4-12 is awful no matter how you slice it.

It's not a great look to fire your coach every two years, but I get the sense that the Glazers don't care about those appearances. They care more about the appearances of losing records, missed postseasons and the idea that another coach other that can turn this thing around, give the franchise hope and sell tickets (not necessarily in that order).

We don't know yet what will happen. But here's what we do know: the Gruden circus is leaving town. All we're left with is one really bad football team.

And two anti-climatic weeks that won't be nearly as interesting as the past one.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones.

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