Friday evening it was reported that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be bringing back head coach Dirk Koetter for a third season. This move came as a bit of a surprise following a four win season and weeks of rumors about former Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden reuniting with his former team. Naturally many fans were upset in learning that the man that led them to a championship would not be coming back to Tampa. However, just because the decision is unpopular doesn’t mean bringing back Koetter is the wrong decision.
So many people who pushed for Greg Schiano to be fired and for Lovie Smith to be hired and for Smith to be fired and for Dirk Koetter to be promoted are now calling for Koetter to be fired and Jon Gruden to be rehired. #Bucs
— Thomas Bassinger (@tometrics) December 27, 2017
Many people will point to this year’s 4-12 record and say that Koetter did a bad job. And while the second year head coach had some growing pains along the way, there is much more that goes into that record than just coaching.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Bucs had as many injuries as anyone this year. Jameis Winston missed about a quarter of the season and played two full games with an injury to his throwing shoulder. Kwon Alexander missed a quarter of the season. Ali Marpet and Demar Dotson missed five games. Vernon Hargreaves missed seven games. These are key members of this Buccaneers team that missed significant time this year.
Another thing to keep in mind is how close some of these losses were to being potential wins. The Bucs have lost seven games by less than a touchdown this season. And those are garbage time, not as close as the final score looked.
There were games like the Bucs being a completed pass on the final play away from beating the Patriots. Games where a very reliable receiver fumbles the ball as the Bucs were marching down the field in a three point loss to the Bills. They include an overtime loss in Green Bay and a last second field goal by one of the best kickers in the NFL in a loss to the Lions. Not to mention giving the Falcons and Panthers all they could handle in the think of a playoff race (for them, not the Bucs). Those were all very close games that could have easily gone the other way if just a few more plays were made.
These close games, particularly down the stretch, tell me that Koetter still has the locker room. It would be very easy for this Bucs team to lay down and quit. After all the offseason hype to be essentially eliminated from the playoffs by mid season is a huge let down. But some how, some way Koetter still gets him team to go out and play hard every week. Even guys like Gerald McCoy who are playing through injury have gone out and left it all on the field in games that really have no meaning for the team. That show that the team respects Koetter to keep fighting for him. That’s called leadership and that’s worth hanging on to.
But the retention of Koetter isn’t about what did or didn’t happen in 2017. It’s not about him being popular or unpopular. It isn’t even about what happened in 2016 when the Bucs exceeded expectations and went 9-7. This move is about what the franchise believes Koetter can do with this team in the future. And based on the growth we’ve seen from Koetter’s offense, this move makes perfect sense.
In 2016, Koetter’s first year as head coach, the Bucs ranked 18th in total yards. Considering Koetter is the architect of the offense in Tampa he deserves a lot of credit for that. Especially considering the skill players he had to work with last year (let us not forget when Cecil Shorts and Jacquizz Rodgers were a major part of the offense). This year the offense has moved up to 11th in total yards. That is a significant improvement. It’s fair to believe with another offseason and, hopefully, a year where the franchise QB is healthy that the offense will make another step forward in 2018.
Part of that offensive improvement is due to upgraded reviving talent. The other big part is the progression of Jameis Winston under Koetter’s guidance.
Despite dealing with a shoulder injury for about half the season, Winston showed improvement this year. He is set to reach new career highs in competition percentage and passing yards per game. He’s also on pace to set a new career low in interception percentage. You don’t have to be an expert to know that throwing for more yards and less interception is a good thing. With a young QB (still just 23) who has improved every year it makes sense to bring back Koetter to keep developing him.
So if you want to be mad that the Bucs went 4-12 this year, by all means do so. The 2017 season was a massive disappointment. But don’t believe for a second that it was the sole result of bad coaching by Koetter because that’s just not the case. This team has grown and improved under Koetter’s leadership. It’s fair to expect them to keep improving next season. That’s why Dirk Koetter has earned the chance to right the ship in Tampa.