With the Buccaneers general manager position in the good hands of Jason Licht for at least one more season, the focus of the front office in a couple of weeks will be squarely on the head coaching position. The writing seems to be on the wall. It’s almost inevitable that Dirk Koetter will be receiving his walking papers come first of the year. The only question is, who will be the next man up?
Some local media sources, as well as a large number of Bucs fans, have been speculating that Jon Gruden could be next in line for the job. Now a national NFL source, Ian Rapaport, is reporting that Gruden has been “calling around” to potential coaching staff candidates in an attempt to see who is interested in possibly joining him. Whether it’s true or not, it definitely fanned the flames of Tampa’s Gruden rumors.
While there is a large portion of Buc Nation that’s excited about the possibility of Chucky pacing the sideline in a Bucs visor again, there are other fans who aren’t so thrilled about it. Some are those same fans that try to make the claim that Gruden won the Super Bowl with “Dungy’s team” and refuse to give him credit where credit is due. Some are fans who are simply sick and tired of our team’s seemingly neverending ride on the coaching carousel. Some want a coaching change but have other ideas for possible candidates such as the Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels or University of Michigan’s head coach Jim Harbaugh. Another option could possibly be the Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians if he decides to leave Arizona, since he has ties to Licht. However, Gruden seems to be the front-runner for the job right now.
I don’t dislike the idea of McDaniels, Harbaugh or Arians, even though those last two are probably not within the realm of possibility. I do wish that Tampa could find a good head coach and stick with him instead of being a revolving door every two years. That being said, I also don’t think that Dirk Koetter is the guy to stick with. For him to be such an NFL offensive “guru” with so much talent on offense and NOT be averaging 30 points per game is unacceptable. I look back at the end of last season, the team just barely missing out on their first playoff berth in almost 10 years finishing 9-7 and showing so much promise going into the 2017 season and I can’t help but scratch my head. How could a team with so much potential completely and utterly shit the proverbial bed so badly this year? What happened? How does that happen? Why did it happen? The only explanation is bad coaching. The only answer is to make a coaching change.
It’s tough not to want the coaching change after seeing how much success other teams have had this season with first and second-year coaches. Look at the Philadelphia Eagles with second-year coach Doug Pederson sitting at 13-2 and leading the NFC East after finishing 7-9 last year. Look at the L.A. Rams with first-year coach Sean McVay sitting at 11-4 and leading the NFC West after finishing 4-12 last year. Look at the Jacksonville Jaguars with first-year coach Doug Marrone sitting at 10-5 and leading the AFC South after going 3-13 last year. Look at the Buffalo Bills with first-year coach Sean McDermott sitting at 8-7 in 2nd place behind the Patriots in the AFC East and in the playoff hunt after finishing 7-9 last year. Look at the San Diego Chargers and first-year coach Anthony Lynn sitting at 8-7 just a game back of the Chiefs for the AFC West title and in the playoff picture after going 5-11 last year. Look at the Tennessee Titans with second-year coach Mike Mularkey sitting at 8-7 and in the AFC playoff hunt after going 9-7 last year despite starting his coaching career 2-7 to finish the 2015 season.
Now, look at the Bucs with second-year coach Dirk Koetter sitting at 4-11 and once again finishing in the basement of the NFC South where all three of the other teams in the division could end up making the playoffs. It’s not just that they only have four wins; it’s who those four wins came against. All four were against teams with losing records. The Bears at 5-10, the Giants at 2-13, the Jets at 5-10 and the Dolphins at 6-9 are the only teams the Bucs have managed to beat this season. That’s not good folks.
I do see some logic in keeping Koetter around. Teams need continuity and stability. I’ve said it in previous articles after looking at teams like the Patriots and Steelers who have been consistently good for so many years and have only had a few different coaches over three or four decades. There are many examples to support that theory. Then again, I look at Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati. They kept him around for 15 years and all he produced was 7 winning seasons and an 0-7 record in the playoffs. Long-tenured coaches are great…as long as they’re the right coaches. If they’re not, then what’s the point?
Now to address the myth of “Dungy’s team” winning the Super Bowl. Yea that’s right, I said MYTH. Let me explain why that’s exactly what it is. The Buccaneers team that Dungy coached was known for their defense. Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defense. He also had assistant coaches like Mike Tomlin, Jim Caldwell, Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith and Herm Edwards who have all moved on to have successful NFL coaching careers. I’m not saying that he wasn’t a good coach, but Dungy had a ton of help during his tenure here. In 6 seasons, Dungy went 54-42 and 2-4 in the playoffs. IF it was “his team” that won the Super Bowl, then why didn’t HE actually win one here?
I’ll give you a sec to ponder that one…
After Tony was fired and Malcolm Glazer made the trade with the Raiders for Jon Gruden, not only did he bring in a bunch of new coaching staff with him but he brought in 28 new players to the team. So how is that still “Dungy’s team” exactly?
Besides that argument collapses in on itself when you realize that, by that thinking, it was Gruden’s team in Oakland that made it to the Super Bowl. His personnel. His offense. His team. You guys can’t have it both ways. But no matter which way you look at it, Jon Gruden brought this city a championship. Dungy never did. End of story. End of debate.
Oh, so you say Gruden didn’t do anything AFTER winning that Super Bowl with “Dungy’s team”? Yep, you’re right. He only won the NFC South two more times over his next 5 seasons while accumulating the most wins by any Buccaneer head coach. All without the benefits of first or second round picks during his first two years in Tampa while at the same time battling injuries and salary cap issues. Yea, he’s a terrible coach.
Looking back through the seasons that Gruden was here in Tampa, I realized that the three losing seasons he did have here all had something in common…injuries. In 2003, the season after the Super Bowl win, the Bucs went 7-9 after a number of starting players ended up on Injured Reserve. That was also the second year that Tampa did not have a first or second-round pick in the draft due to the trade with Oakland. The 2004 season was even worse with the Bucs finishing 5-11 for the year. Bad free agent signings and serious salary cap issues led to that record. The team managed to stay relatively healthy in 2005 and we were rewarded with an 11-5 record to show for it. However, they weren’t so lucky the next year when Gruden coached a Bruce Gradkowski led Buccaneers team to a 4-12 record in 2006, his worst season here in Tampa. If you remember that year, Chris Simms began the year as the starting QB until he ruptured his spleen early on. Gradkowski was a 6th round pick from Toledo being asked to step in and start as a rookie. After that, Gruden had two consecutive 9-7 seasons in 2007 and 2008 before being “relieved of his duties” following a heated exchange with the Glazer brothers about their lack of spending in free agency. Chucky finished his Buccaneers coaching career with a 57-55 record, including 3-2 in the playoffs, giving him the most wins of any Bucs head coach.
In Gruden’s first season, the Bucs improved on offense in points per game and yards per game but they also got better on defense moving from 6th in the league under Dungy to 1st in the league. After Gruden was fired, the team went from 14th in offense and 9th in defense to 28th in offense and 27th in defense for the 2009 season under new head coach Raheem Morris.
“But Gruden has been out of coaching for the last 10 years so he must be out of touch with today’s NFL game, right?” Nonsense. That man still watches more film and probably game plans more for Monday Night Football games than half the head coaches in the league. He’s still one of the brightest football minds around.
You can’t question his fire and passion for the game. Did you see him on Hard Knocks ? The guy is still as intense as ever. He loves football. He loves coaching. He loves Tampa. And he still loves the Bucs. It just makes sense. It’s no secret that he’s a huge Jameis Winston fan and he’s publicly said that he’d love to coach him. He appears to be the most logical choice at the moment should the position suddenly become available.
A 12th loss of the season against the Saints here at home should seal Koetter’s fate. If the Bucs actually win, then it could possibly buy him one more year but I doubt it. The coaching issues are deeper than just this abysmal record. It’s also been the bad game planning, the questionable coaching decisions, the poor clock management, the lack of production in the redzone and the overall lack of progression made by the players and the team under him. This team should’ve improved on their 9-7 record from 2016 and instead, they regressed. Badly. Somehow they added talent and got worse. That can ONLY be explained by poor coaching.
Should the Glazers decide to pull the trigger on this, I can only see it happening one way. Gruden would likely end up as one of, if not the highest paid head coach in the NFL. It would have to be lucrative enough to make it worth his while to walk away from the cushy, stress-free, MNF gig to return to the highly stressful environment of the NFL sidelines. I also think that the Glazers would have to agree to some type of long-term contract. When I say “long term”, I do mean at least a guaranteed 5 years as a kind of insurance policy against Brian and Joel’s impatient tendencies towards their head coaches. Would you blame him? They haven’t exactly been forgiving of bad football and losing records, despite the fact that they’ve hired every one of them.
If it happens, it will happen quickly. Especially Dirk’s firing. I look for that to happen early next week should they lose again this Sunday. IF that happens, then the Gruden announcement would soon follow. It will make for a pretty interesting offseason. NFL free agency begins at 4 p.m. on March 14th and Gruden could end up going shopping again looking for veteran role players like he did when he first came to Tampa. The Bucs are estimated to have about $70 million in cap space after this season. That number will change depending on which players they release/re-sign. They do have some hefty contracts coming up to contend with in Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Kwon Alexander, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith. The nucleus is there on both sides of the ball. Add a guard and a running back on offense. Add some defensive line pieces and a cornerback or two on defense. This team is right there. If Gruden can put the right staff together, then watch out!
Even though it’s fun to do, it’s all speculation at this point. There’s STILL one more game left this season. Dirk Koetter is STILL the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Jon Gruden is STILL working the booth for ESPN Monday Night Football. However, all of that could change after a loss on Sunday night. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!