Last offseason, Dirk Koetter was gearing up to take over a Tampa Bay offense that struggled under an interim offensive coordinator. One year later, after helming the Bucs to a team record in yardage, Koetter is elevating to the big chair and taking over for Lovie Smith.
Koetter initially landed a job in Tampa Bay based on building top-10 offenses in Jacksonville and Atlanta. His Jaguars were a physical, run-oriented offense paced by Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, while his Falcons featured a dynamic passing game that included Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
When he took over in Tampa Bay, he wasn’t necessarily looking for pieces to plug into his system. “First of all, there is no ‘my offense’,” Koetter said at his first media conference call as the Bucs’ OC. “I’m a big believer that the system that you have has to be flexible enough to take into account the various strengths and weaknesses of your players. I think it’s foolish to take a system and ram it down a player’s throat, if that doesn’t play to his strengths.”
True to his word, Koetter took the pieces he was given and turned the Tampa Bay offense around. Of course, having first overall pick Jameis Winston directing the attack certainly helped, as did a bounce-back contract-year effort from Doug Martin.
Following the season, the Bucs’ front office felt the need for a change. With Koetter drawing attention as a potential head coach candidate—he interviewed for the big chair with Kansas City, Philadelphia and Cleveland while he was the Falcons’ OC, so he was definitely on the short list—Tampa Bay’s ownership released Smith and elevated Koetter.
“He’s put a good resume in front of him for the job,” GM Jason Licht said when Koetter was introduced as the Bucs’ head coach. “Historically the best offense we’ve had here in Tampa Bay. He’s a good communicator. He’s done great things with Jameis. There’s a lot of good football coaches out there. Dirk’s one of them.”
Koetter’s hire also allowed the Bucs and Winston to maintain a level of continuity for their offense. Fresh off a strong rookie season, the team did not want to force their franchise quarterback to learn a new offense. And from a front office perspective, Smith’s departure gave Licht more control of the roster. While Smith selected only one defensive player in his two drafts as the Bucs’ head coach, his track record of signing free agents was not particularly strong.
Elevating Koetter to the big chair shouldn’t change the Tampa Bay offense dramatically, as he will continue to call the plays. “When you’re the head coach and you’re the play caller, you have a license to be a little bit more aggressive,” Koetter said during his introductory press conference. “That’s how I was when I was a high school coach, as a college coach. That comes from inside me, because you have the power to decide if you’re going for it on fourth-and-one or throw it deep three times in a row or give it to Doug Martin three times in a row. You are the head coach. SO you make your game plan and you stick to your game plan.”
“There’s already a model that exists in the NFL for the head coach as the play-caller,” Koetter added. “I will continue to be the play-caller for the Bucs. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into football, and one of my favorite parts of football is the strategy and the game-management part, the play-calling part. I think I’d be foolish to give that up.”
Koetter also made an impression with the media. Where Smith was perceived as boring, Koetter not only seemed comfortable with the media but was clear and detailed and effectively conveyed his enthusiasm about football.
That impression carries over into the locker room as well, as the players reportedly love him. When Smith’s firing was announced, tight end Brandon Myers knew exactly who his replacement would be. “Dirk has been the man since he walked in the door,” Myers posted on Twitter.
We’ve already seen what Koetter can do with the Bucs’ offense; giving him even more license to be aggressive can only help Winston and Mike Evans. And if the front office returns Doug Martin to Tampa—or if the Bucs are forced to replace him via free agency or the draft—all the pieces are in place for another record-setting offensive campaign.