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Jones: Bucs' Koetter goes by the book, but guess which book

Dirk Koetter is a big believer in the wisdom of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go: “There’s a lot of good life lessons in that book. … Careful what you wish for, it might come true.’’
Dirk Koetter is a big believer in the wisdom of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go: “There’s a lot of good life lessons in that book. … Careful what you wish for, it might come true.’’
Published Sep. 10, 2016

Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!

There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.

And the magical things you can do with that ball

will make you the winning-est winner of all.

Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be,

with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

In the spacious corner office of Dirk Koetter, on a coffee table near the window that overlooks the practice fields at One Buc Place, rests two books. One is a giant NFL picture book. The other is a worn edition of Dr. Seuss' Oh, the Places You'll Go.

"I'd give you that one,'' Koetter said, "but that's my last copy.''

Call it Koetter's playbook. Not the one with plays he has drawn up for the Bucs offense. The one he uses as his life's guide.

"I just reread it the other day,'' Koetter said. "There's a lot of good life lessons in that book. … Oh, the places you'll go. Careful what you wish for, it might come true.''

His wish to become an NFL head coach has come true, finally, 57 years after he was born in Pocatello, Idaho.

Oh, the places you'll go. Koetter has coached all across America. His trek from Idaho to California to Texas to Missouri to Massachusetts to Oregon back to Idaho to Florida to Georgia has now led him here. Tampa Bay.

He was a high school head coach. A college coach, too. He was a longtime NFL assistant, one of the game's sharpest offensive minds. But now, for the first time, he's an NFL head coach.

"The NFL is the three most intense hours and then you're just exhausted at the end,'' Koetter said. "I could fall asleep in two seconds after the game. … It's exhilarating. It's fun if you win, and it's crushing if you lose.''

Now it's his turn to be head coach in the best league in the world. Koetter can't wait.

"I know I can coach,'' he said.

We shall soon find out.

You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose.

You're on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

There was only one place Dirk Koetter was ever going to go: coaching.

It's in his blood. Koetter's dad, Jim, was a successful coach in high school and at Idaho State. Dirk became head coach at Highland High in Idaho when he was only 24.

"One of the smartest dudes I've ever known,'' said future Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, who played both football and basketball for Koetter. "He was like a hero back home. Everyone wanted to be Dirk Koetter.''

Hoge said his little Idaho team could've taken on any of the talented teams from football-rich western Pennsylvania and "kicked their rear ends up and down the field.''

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"He was ahead of the time,'' Hoge said. "You'd have to burn all three of your timeouts in the first three plays because you would have no idea what he was hitting you with.''

As a coach, he was smart. As a man, he was tough but fair.

"He is brilliant with words, and he doesn't engage in stupidity,'' Hoge, 51, said. "I remember in high school basketball there was this kid who used to just irritate the heck out of me. I always wanted to just kill him. And one day I was going off and Dirk pulled me aside and said, 'You done being a child?' He just put me in my spot. He didn't yell at me. He didn't stoop to my level. He just let me know that he had had enough. That's all he had to say.''

Hoge knew Koetter was destined for a great career in coaching.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.

Some windows are lighted.

But mostly they're darked.

A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!

Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

How much can you lose? How much can you win?"

Koetter crisscrossed the country, coaching football. Along the way he married and had four children. He lost. He won. He had great success. He was fired along the way, too.

It was all good. He loved every second. He never stopped learning from other great coaches.

"They're teachers,'' Koetter said. "You're teaching your guys how to play the game of football. That's fundamentals. That's technique. You're teaching them a game plan. I really enjoy that part of offensive football. You're teaching them the keys to winning that game. It's not always the same every week. What do we have to do beat this team?"

He knew what he knew. More importantly, he knew what he didn't know.

"I had a chance to be a college head coach at a very young age, and I chickened out,'' Koetter said. "I got to the final three and I pulled my name out, and I think I would have got the job. I pulled out because something inside me (told me) I wasn't ready.''

Imagine the courage that took.

Did he make the right choice?

"I don't know,'' he said.

But he does know where it got him. Here. Tampa Bay.

I'm afraid that some times

you'll play lonely games too.

Games you can't win

'cause you'll play against you.

Koetter is a lone wolf. Not a hermit. Not a recluse. A lone wolf. That's not a bad thing.

"I'm definitely a loner,'' Koetter said.

He loves being around the players. But don't expect him to be the life of the party, wearing lamp shades and telling jokes.

"If I'm at a cocktail party, I'm usually standing against the wall,'' he said. "You can't be something that you're not.''

Here's what else he is not: complicated. He's straightforward. Honest. Sometimes to a fault.

"Sometimes I can have a tendency to be irrational and say things I shouldn't say or do things I shouldn't do,'' Koetter said.

It's not that he doesn't care. It's just that he has work to do. He works in a job full of emotion. And he's going to do things his way. He has done this too long to do it any other way.

"I'm at the end,'' Koetter said. "I'm not that up-and-coming guy anymore. I'm at the end. I'm almost done. I'm very thankful for this opportunity. I think I can do it. Guys in this league that I'm very close to who are doing it at a high level, I think I can do that, too.''

The Bucs thought so. They fired Lovie Smith after two losing seasons and gave the job to Koetter, who joined the Bucs last season as Smith's offensive coordinator. It's Koetter's job to turn around a franchise that seems permanently headed in the wrong direction.

"That part does not bother me at all,'' Koetter said. "Everybody around here tends to think that's a Tampa thing only. That's an everyplace thing. There's no place where you cannot do a good job and expect to stick around. That's just not happening.

"Some places might have more patience or less patience than others, but if you're not getting it done, it's just too competitive and they're going to move on. That's just expected. That's just nature of it.''

And when you're in a Slump,

you're not in for much fun.

Un-slumping yourself

is not easily done.

Koetter can be difficult at times. He's not all warm and fuzzy. He's focused, which sometimes can be mistaken for dismissive. He's driven, which can be mistaken for rude.

Then again, that's what the public sees.

"He's a great guy,'' said Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who worked with Koetter when they were assistants in Jacksonville. "And he's a nice guy. But he's serious when it comes to football.''

In a good way, says Monken.

"You're a better coach when you're around Dirk Koetter,'' Monken said. "He's just one of those guys whose attention to detail is unparalleled.''

Monken said the only reason he is in coaching these days is because of Koetter. And Monken, like seemingly everyone who knows Koetter, is convinced he will have terrific career as an NFL head coach.

"I think Dirk will do a great job,'' said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. "He was obviously here in Atlanta for three years. I learned a ton from him. He helped me a ton in my career. … You kind of always know how somebody would transition. He just had the qualities that you would think a good head coach would have.

"I think he'll do a great job in Tampa, and I'm happy for him."

You'll get mixed up, of course,

as you already know.

You'll get mixed up

with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life's

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

He has been waiting his whole life for this, even though he was fine if it had never happened.

"I wasn't worried about it,'' Koetter said. "Shoot, being an offensive coordinator in the NFL is a fantastic job.''

But now it's his job. He's the head coach. The man. Now he's ready.

More so now than 10, 15 year ago, he claims.

"He's wrong,'' Monken said. "He doesn't give himself enough credit. He could have done this years ago.''

This time, however, just feels right.

"I'm just older and wiser,'' Koetter said. "Experience in any job, you should get better at it.''

Now he has the experience.

And expects to take Tampa Bay to great places.


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