Ten ways for the Bucs’ Koetter to save his job

by Gary Shelton on October 26, 2018 · 2 comments

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Koetter's Bucs have to show improvement./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 4 a.m.

Ten weeks to go. Seventy days. A lot of last chances.

There will be game that can be anybody's. There will be calls when the entire stadium wonders why you would continue to bang your head against the wall. There will be challenges and time-outs and third-and-ones.

But when you add it all up, it comes down to this:

How does Dirk Koetter save his job?

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He is 3-3, and the last month has been disappointing. There have been key injuries. There have been blown coverages. There have been sloppy interceptions.

Add it all up, and you see a man standing on a thin limb for two and half months.

Can Koetter climb to safety? Or, at this point, is his ouster a foregone conclusion?

Let's look at the battlefields:

1. The game results: Yes, it's a bottom-line business. And the bottom line says that Koetter has to show improvement to stay employed. Would an 8-8 season do it, which means his team would have to go 5-5 the rest of the way? How about 9-7, which he was two years ago?

The suspicion here is that Koetter has to win at least 10 games to feel relatively safe. If he can do that, if he can double his team's five wins from a year ago, that should satisfy the Glazers. But going 7-3 the rest of the way will be a chore with his team's schedule. So if he wins six, or even five, will the Glazers stay with him?

Of course, it matters how it happens. If two of the losses are last-second jobs, and if the players show enough improvement to think that the Bucs are on the cusp, then maybe. No one wants to blow everything up and start over.

But it's going to be hard for Koetter to survive with a losing record. Other coaches have been fired a lot quicker.

2. Jameis Winston: A lot of the eyes on Koetter are looking at Winston, too. He simply has to get his interceptions under control. No, that doesn't mean he can't ever throw one; deflected passes and last-ditch efforts don't reflect as badly as one of those "hey, the safety is open" kind of heaves.

Winston has to show that he's worth salvaging. If he doesn't, the Bucs might as well start over everywhere.

Look, I understand why Winston wasn't named captain. Heck, he's a sergeant. Maybe a corporal. But he's the most important guy in his team's huddle, the guy who unlocks all of the potential of his wide receivers.

Winston is smart, and he's competitive. But sometimes, he simply doesn't get this part about "protecting the ball." He says the right things, but he hasn't improved. His interception percentage is double what it was last year.

If Winston isn't getting better, then the guy who was hired to lead that is less essential.

3. The defense: It's true that the Bucs have a lot of rookies in their secondary. That doesn't mean they should play like third-graders.

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith was fired because of safeties who played as deep as punt returners and corners who played tackle-the-ball. Mark Duffner, essentially the backup defensive coordinator, can't make the same mistake. Granted, it helped that the Browns wanted to nibble and sip in pass coverage instead of challenging the Bucs deep.

Ask yourself this: Between the free agency, trade and the draft, how many millions of dollars did the Bucs allocate to the defense last off-season. It was a lot. And don't you think the Glazers would like a little better return.

4. The standings: The Bucs have to avoid fourth place in the NFC South ... again. Is it too much to ask that the Bucs finish ahead of somebody?

Check this out. The Bucs are currently in third place, one-half game ahead of Atlanta. If they finish last, it would be seven last-place finishes (ties included) in their last eight years. That's a long time for a time-out.

5. Key games: The Bucs need a memorable win or two the rest of the way. Maybe a win against Dallas, a marquee team. Maybe a closing win against Atlanta in the season finale. Maybe a sweep of the Panthers.

The logic is simple. If you aren't going to win enough games, you need to win some big ones.

6. The running game: The Glazers are no different from most fans; they want to see improvement. In the second half of the season, Ronald Jones has to show that he's not the Roberto Aguayo of running backs. He has to wipe the bust label clean off of him.

Again, it doesn't have to turn into a relentless rushing machine. But average would be nice.

7. Survive the injuries: All bad teams point to their bad luck with penalties and injuries. And, yes, the Bucs are beaten up. They're missing Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, Chris Conte and Vernon Hargreaves (don't laugh; he 's not good, but his absence means rookies have to play more).

Koetter doesn't bring it up much. That's good. A coach can never win when he brings up injuries. Everyone is aware of them. But like the late George Young of the Giants used to say, "it's a game of attrition."

8. Make plays: The Bucs won't survive unless they can get the opposing quarterback to play at less than a 100 rating. Five of their six opponents have done so. There are other good quarterbacks ahead, and the Bucs have to survive.

9 Put the foot in football: Everyone felt good for Chandler Catanzaro after he hit a 59-yard field goal to win last week. But the next time Catanzaro misses an extra point, even if the some is 48-3, the kicking tryouts begin.

Be warned.

10. Don't worry about the NFL draft. If the Bucs pick too high, it might be some other coach doing the picking.

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