Dirk Koetter is a hot head coaching candidate after a successful year overseeing Jameis Winston's development. Everyone loves quarterback whisperers, and Koetter was responsible for the best years of David Garrard's and Matt Ryan's careers, and has now helped a young quarterback transition to the NFL successfully. Given the importance of quarterbacks in the NFL, teams will naturally want a part of that. The Miami Dolphins were interested in him before hiring Adam Gase, he's had an interview with the San Francisco 49ers, has reportedly received interest from the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers themselves have said they view him as a strong candidate.
There's a lot more to being a head coach than just being good with quarterbacks or designing a functional offense, though. And when Dirk Koetter last got the opportunity to put those other skills in practice, he made some crucial mistakes. As the head coach at Arizona State University from 2001 to 2006, Koetter not only bungled handling troubled athletes, his actions put other students in danger -- and eventually, may have led to the death of one person as Luke Easterling of Scout.com points out.
In March 2005, ASU running back Loren Wade shot and kiled Brandon Falkner in what appeared to be a fit of jealousy, as Falkner was talking to Wade's ex-girlfriend at the time. The running back was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the shooting. This was not an isolated incident. As the Phoenix New Times tells it, Wade had repeatedly transgressed in the past -- and Koetter never reported his increasingly dangerous behavior, deciding to keep his star running back on the field.
Koetter was aware that Wade had threatened to kill a female gymnast, that a women's soccer coach told Koetter that her players were terrified of Wade because he had a gun, and that Wade had threatened his ex-girlfriend's life and possessions, prompting her to call the police twice in six days. He wasn't suspended or punished for any of that behavior, nor was it reported to any authorities. The only thing that Koetter disciplined Wade for during his tenure was accepting payments from an ASU employee, an NCAA violation.
Had Koetter reported any of Wade's behavior to police, university authorities or even referred him to a professional counselor, perhaps the death of Falkner could have been prevented. Instead, Koetter decided he was the best person to counsel Wade -- even though when the running back had told Koetter he wanted to quit the team in 2004, he'd sent him to a sports psychologist. Wade's criminal defense attorney, Ulises Ferragut, told the Phoenix New Times that Koetter failed to do the right thing.
"When things went awry, instead of the coaching staff saying 'Time out!' they sort of just let it go on," Ferragut says. ASU, he says, sent "the wrong message to Wade" by allowing his aberrant behavior to go unchecked.
It would be one thing if Wade was an out-of-control athlete and the shooting an unpreventable incident, but Koetter's response to the murder suggests that he simply doesn't take his players off-field behavior seriously. The Arizona Republic notes that after the murder, Koetter said he'd "never connected the dots in Loren Wade's history of trouble with women in the athletic program." Koetter "acknowledged other allegations of misconduct against Wade," but would only say that they weren't "relationship issues."
That term -- "relationship issues" -- keeps showing up in Koetter's immediate reaction, and shows a troubling disregard for the seriousness of a young man repeatedly threatening women. Relationship issues are not the same thing as threats and violence.
ASU president Michael Crow told the Arizona Republic that "all the coaches were satisfied. They felt they didn't have a guy who was out of control." Apparently, repeatedly threatening women is perfectly in control in Koetter's mind.
Koetter had other players with serious off-field problems, too. The Phoenix New Times in a different article noted that "two players have faced sexual-assault allegations and two other players were kicked off the team for secretly filming a coed disrobing. Another player was dismissed after pulling a knife, and another for firing a gun." One such player was running back Hakim Hill, who had been suspended in 2001 after being charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl, eventually pleading guilty to a misdemeanor of assault causing injury. Koetter reinstated him in 2002, then kicked him off the team for fighting with a teammate in 2004.
Given Koetter's willingness to let anyone back on the team regardless of their past actions and his seemingly cavalier attitude toward harassment and threats, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he oversaw a program with a toxic environment. In fact, that's exactly what a student who was allegedly sexually assaulted by defensive back Darnel Henderson in 2004 said in a lawsuit against ASU in 2006, claiming that Koetter "created and fostered an environment that encouraged inappropriate behavior by football players, including sexual harassment of female students and other women." ASU settled the lawsuit for $850,000.
The irony of it all is that Koetter's ignoring off-field problems didn't even lead to wins. By all accounts, his tenure at Arizona State was regarded as mediocre, going 40-34 and winning just two low-profile bowl games in six seasons.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' past actions suggest they wouldn't view any of this as a problem. They weren't shy about going after athletes with troubled pasts under Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, the latter running the Bucs' head coaching search. The two courted Greg Hardy, going as far as to draw up a contract for him, were reportedly interested in Adrian Peterson, who pled guilty to child abuse for using a switch to beat his child bloody, brought in locker-room bully Richie Incognito for a visit and drafted Jameis Winston number one overall. The latter faced a rape accusation, but was never charged or found responsible despite multiple investigations. And even prior to Lovie Smith and Jason Licht the Bucs didn't really care about off-field issues: they fielded more arrested players than all but four teams from 2000 to 2014.
Greg Hardy's case shows some disturbing parallels to that of Loren Wade, with threats to an ex-girlfriend (this time involving physical violence -- warning: graphic), firearms, a history of erratic behavior and a team and coaching staff that seem to be enabling him. Notable: Hardy's set to be a free agent this offseason.
You can find a (potentially valid) justification for each of the cases of the Bucs going after players with off-field issues I named above, but the pattern is clear: the Bucs don't care about players' off-field behavior as long as he can stay on the field. That seems to fit Dirk Koetter well.
While Koetter has been an outstanding offensive coach since he entered the NFL in 2007, his past at Arizona State suggests that he may not be the right person to be leading an NFL team. Perhaps Koetter has learned from his mistakes and would do things differently now. But these issues raise at least some very serious questions about his ability to lead a football program.
h/t Luke Easterling