TAMPA — Three games into his first season as Bucs coach, Lovie Smith watched in embarrassment as his defense was steamrolled on national television by a Falcons offense that erupted for 56 points, tying for the second-most allowed in club history.
"The rest of our lives we're going to remember this game," Smith said.
Smith also didn't forget that it was Dirk Koetter calling the plays for the Falcons that Sept. 18 night. On Thursday, Smith hired Koetter as the Bucs offensive coordinator.
Koetter, 55, agreed to terms on a two-year deal with an option in 2017. He interviewed for the job last week and brings familiarity with the NFC South. Before coming to Atlanta, he spent five seasons as the Jaguars' offensive coordinator, following stints as head coach at Boise State and Arizona State.
During his three seasons in Atlanta, the Falcons ranked eighth, 14th and eighth in total offense. The Falcons' Matt Ryan posted the three highest passing yardage seasons in franchise history under Koetter, as well as three of the four highest completion percentage seasons.
That's important because the Bucs have the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft and are in position to select either Florida State's Jameis Winston or Oregon junior Marcus Mariota, who has yet to declare.
Koetter runs a pro-style offense that is heavy on the passing side, which could be a fit for Winston. But he also has a strong connection on the Mariota side — Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was Koetter's quarterbacks coach for eight years, at Boise State (1998-2000) and Arizona State (2001-05). Helfrich's first coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Oregon in 1997 when Koetter was the offensive coordinator for the Ducks.
The Bucs' current quarterbacks are starter Josh McCown and Mike Glennon.
"I'm very excited to welcome Dirk to our staff," Smith said. "With over three decades of experience at both the college and the NFL level, Dirk has a proven track record as a top offensive coordinator. During his time in Atlanta, he led one of the most productive offenses in the league, and I believe he will enjoy similar success here with the exciting young players we have on offense."
Koetter, who was under contract for next season with the Falcons, was one of the assistants who cleared out his office after Atlanta fired coach Mike Smith, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. The team said it would make the assistants under contract available to the new coach, but the Bucs were granted permission to talk to Koetter, and he apparently was released from his contract.
If Koetter coaches a single regular-season game, he will be an improvement over what the Bucs had to work with last year. Jeff Tedford, Smith's first offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, had a heart procedure in August and went on indefinite medical leave, with quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo taking over play-calling all season.
The Bucs ranked ahead of only the Jaguars and Raiders in total offense. Tedford was released from his contract in December.
It's Smith's sixth offensive coordinator in 10 seasons. He had four with the Bears.
The Bucs chose Koetter from a list of candidates who interviewed, which included 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and former Bears head coach Marc Trestman. The Bucs had to move quickly because Koetter was mentioned as a candidate to join the staffs of either Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula if they get head coaching jobs.
"It became very apparent early in our conversations that we share some of the same philosophies regarding the offensive side of the ball, and I look forward to working with Dirk as we begin preparing for the 2015 season," Smith said.
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.