Coaching is in Dirk Koetter's blood

Dirk Koetter at around 5 years old. [Photo courtesy of Koetter family]
Dirk Koetter at around 5 years old. [Photo courtesy of Koetter family]
Published Jan. 17, 2016

TAMPA — Over 50 years, Dirk Koetter's playbook has expanded, but back in his parents' home in Pocatello, Idaho, is a piece of paper with three plays, scribbled out by a coach's son at age 6.

"They're a little bit more like chicken scratches than they are plays," admits Jim Koetter, 78, beaming clear from the other corner of the country Friday as his son was announced as the Bucs' head coach.

Dirk Koetter, 56, has been preparing for his new job since before the Bucs even existed. He grew up immersed in football, with vivid memories of happily following in his father's footsteps in the tireless life of a coach.

"Playbooks, notepads, napkins, plays all over the place," Dirk recalled of his childhood home. "I grew up wanting to be my dad, from the time I was very little."

He said as much to the Bucs in the interview process — he came to Tampa last year as offensive coordinator, a role he had held eight years with the Jaguars and Falcons. It's rare that an NFL team fires its head coach — as the Bucs did with Lovie Smith — but sees enough in an assistant to promote from within, as Tampa Bay did in giving Koetter the biggest in a career full of promotions.

"Coaching is definitely in his blood," general manager Jason Licht said Friday after announcing the five-year contract. "The competitiveness is in his family with their sports background. … It's been great to get to know them a little bit better now."

Jim Koetter coached for 35 years, mostly in high school, his wife, Barb, often dropping off their two young sons at practices after school. He was the offensive coordinator at Idaho State in 1981, with Dirk a backup quarterback and his younger son Brent a safety as the Bengals won a Division I-AA national championship. He would spend five years as head coach there before returning to high school for three more state championships.

"We probably spent half our childhood either out in the driveway or at my dad's practices," said Brent, 52, who himself won five Idaho state championships as a high school football head coach before moving to a career in finance in 2000. "Neighborhood games of you name it — basketball, Wiffle ball, football. Unbelievable childhood, what we were exposed to, the quality people. It was a great way to grow up."

• • •

The Bucs' new coach is known for his relentless dedication to preparing himself and players to get the best chance to win, something both sons inherited from their father back in Pocatello.

"Never seen anything like it," Brent said of his father's coaching. "The years we coached together, I learned so much. It was unbelievable what he would come up with. I always said from sunup to sundown, he'd do the work of about 10 people. How he related to kids and what he could do was just amazing."

The most emotional point in Koetter's introductory news conference Friday was when he gave thanks to his parents.

"If you only knew the things that they instilled in me along the way that led up to today," he said. "It's an amazing journey."

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Koetter was a high school head coach at 24, winning a state championship, and a college assistant at 27, getting his first head coaching job at 38 at Boise State. Coaching has taken him and his family all over the country — to California, Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, back to Idaho, Arizona, Georgia and Florida. Home is still Idaho, where the family name remains synonymous with coaching success.

Even realizing the significance of Friday's announcement, Koetter's father was surprised by the emotion his son showed in acknowledging everyone that helped him get to where he is.

"I haven't seen that side of him very much — he was very emotional," his father said. "No question, this is the top of his profession. We're very excited about it."

• • •

Despite that steady climb through the coaching ranks, Koetter credits not his ambition but his parents' advice about focusing on the job you have, rather than the job you might want down the road.

"My parents always told me, 'You do a great job where you're at. You do a great job in the role you're in,' " Koetter said. "You play your role, you do what you're supposed to do and the rest works itself out. … There's 32 of these jobs in the world. … Like I said, I appreciate the opportunity."

Koetter's children have combined his love of coaching with his wife Kim's background as a college volleyball player, also at Idaho State. Daughter Kaylee played at the University of Tampa, where she's now an assistant coach; daughter Kendra plays at Georgia Southern; and son Derek is a student manager for Missouri's women's volleyball team. Their youngest, Davis, a junior at Berkeley Prep, plays basketball and football like his dad.

Koetter's coaching background even helped him meet his wife. It was current Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who spent four years as an assistant with Jim Koetter as Idaho State, who introduced them when he was only a high school coach.

"He's the most loyal guy in the world," said Kim, married 27 years and sitting in the front row at Friday's announcement. "He's brutally honest. He's going to tell you exactly what he thinks and feels. But he's a great communicator, an amazing leader. My kids are such a product of his tutoring, mentoring, loving. I'd vote for him for president."

So much of Koetter's comments Friday were about family, from his parents to the pride he now has in his four children. His last words Friday painted a picture of the childhood that set him on a path that led him to the Bucs and the highest job a young coach can attain.

"I saw what it was like," he said. "In those days, that was lining the fields, cutting the grass, fixing the helmets, washing the uniforms, 16mm film on the kitchen table. Long, hard days, JV games, varsity games, weight room, teaching guys how to squat, buried in the basement … every coaching book ever written was in our basement. I'm a football coach."

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.