What’s your verdict in the trial of Dirk Koetter?

by Gary Shelton on December 29, 2017 · 4 comments

in general

Winston hasn't improved under Koetter./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston hasn't improved under Koetter./CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Dirk Koetter stands accused. Assault with a dead weapon, you might say. Impersonating an NFL team, perhaps.

Every week, he faces an angry jury. The evidence against him is mounting. The witnesses are disturbed by what they have seen.

Koetter stands 4-11, and from the looks of things, it's going to hard for him to build  a defense. Yeah, the Bucs have tried.  His team is flawed, results are poor and the progress of the quarterback seems to have regressed.  Koetter's career is on the downslide, and coaches have been fired around here for losing a lot fewer games. The Bucs are among the worst teams in the league, and by far the worst team in the NFC South   The playoffs seem a million miles -- and a few years -- away.

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Koetter has struggled in the red zone./CARMEN MANDATO

Koetter has struggled in the red zone./CARMEN MANDATO

So what do you think? Do you keep him? Or do you can him? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

The debate to keeping Koetter seems to be this: Whether or not Koetter is the wrong guy, if the team eventually hires the right guy, it's going to take more than two years to rebuild this franchise. The debate to replacing him is this: If you don't think Koetter is the right guy, then you don't do a franchise any good to keep him. Koetter's argument can't be that Lovie Smith, Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris didn't get enough time.

Of course, the whispers talk about Jon Gruden coming back. But Gruden had a four-win season, too. He won the Bucs' last playoff game, but that's going on 15 years now. All is not shiny and new about Gruden, either.

Still, this is about Koetter.  Can you come up with an argument that he should be kept?

Decent guy, Koetter. He grinds hard. He cares. The Bucs have had worse coaches. They've responded worse to other men.

Still, you feel sorry for Koetter. He didn't coach injury, and he doesn't coach turnovers. He keeps plugging away.

And yet, there is this: 4-11.

Granted, the Bucs have not quit, if that counts for anything. Like most losing designations, it means something only that it beats the alternative. Koetter's team hasn't thrown in the towel like, say, Morris' final Bucs' team. Consider: In Koetter's last five losses, the team has been outscored 120-101. In Morris' last five, they were outscored 203-88. That team waved a while flag and negotiated a surrender.

But finishing second in a two-team game isn't the consolation you might think. It's a bottom-line business. Wins count; close losses do not.

Remember, when Koetter was hired, part of the imperative was the maturation of Jameis Winston.  That hasn't happened. Sure, part of Winston's lackadaisical year has been a shoulder injury, but that has nothing to do with him being a grown-up. His meltdowns in the first Saints' game and the second Panthers' game were embarrassing. Top flight quarterbacks don't turn into 2-year-olds. Winston can't lead as long as he's this erratic.

Look, it isn't all Koetter's fault. Heck, it wasn't all Schiano's fault, or all Lovie's, or all Morris'. But the head coach has to set a tone.

Jason Licht could have drafted better. You cannot explain Roberto Aguayo when the team needed a defensive end, You cannot explain the signing of Chris Baker as a free agent when you needed a running back.

Winston could have been better. There are too many clown moments, too many fumbles that contributed to losses. There were too many drives that died in the red zone. Too many unprotected leads. Too many turnovers. Too many incompletions.

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith could have done better. Of course, he could argue that the defense has been a back-burner priority for this team for far too long. Last year's late-season surge was an illusion, and the Bucs should have known better than to trust it.

Look, the last time Gruden replaced a head coach around here, he won a Super Bowl. That isn't likely to happen this time, but his energy could be an impact. The Bucs should be better.

But long-term? That's the question. A lot of teams hit a skid at a re-start. How Koetter feels about his borderline players isn't likely to be the way a new coach feels about them. A new coach may see Noah Spence as an undersized end, not as a blossoming star.  Remember, the last time Gruden took over the Bucs, he inherited a defense in one of its finest runs in history. This time? Not so much. This defense is among the worst in the NFL.

And offense?  It hasn't been in synch for most of the year. The gains that Desean Jackson has added have been lost by the dip in Mike Evans' performance. Running back Doug Martin seems to be somewhere else. The offensive line, praised by the coaching staff, is run-of-the-mill.

Bottom line? The Bucs are just bad. Replacing the head coach won't necessarily fix that. But every team in the playoffs has, at one time or another, given a new guy a shot.

So ask yourself: Would the gains in continuity be better than the loss of the head coach? It's a tough call.

I go back to this. I identify the coaches who I think would be an instant upgrade over Koetter. And I make the calls. And if that fails (see: Bill Parcells, Chip Kelly), then I stay with Koetter.  Reluctantly. I like Koetter, for instance, better than Josh McDaniel or another coordinator on another team.

From here, it's third-and-18.

There isn't a good choice.

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