Dirk Koetter has talked about changing the culture inside the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ team a bunch the past few days. He blamed the team’s loss against the Los Angeles Rams on that culture (I’d blame it on poor defensive play, missed kicks and game management). He elaborated on that spiel in Monday’s press conference, emphasizing that the best teams he’d been one “beat with one heart”.
“I’m talking about the culture of our football team. I’m talking about the 53 players, the 10 practice squad guys and however many coaches we have. The guys that are coming up with the game plan, putting the game plan together and trying to execute the game plan.
“The best teams that I’ve been on beat with one heart and they count on the guy next to them to do their job every time and they win and lose together. And maybe our fans have cheered for a team like that at one point, hopefully all of our players have played on a team [like that].
“I know when I’ve been on teams like that, you can feel it and man, you want to grab it and hold onto its tail because it’s elusive. When you don’t have it, you can also feel it. We’re just missing something, I feel like – and as my title suggests, it’s my job to speak up. I feel like sometimes we find too many ways to lose a game instead of creating ways to win a game.”
Wait hold on, that stuff sounds a little familiar.
Here’s Lovie Smith talking after a win last year, via the Bradenton Herald.
"The first thing we talk about us playing hard. If Henry Melton hadn't been running to the football that wouldn't have happened. Our players are saying that's the culture that we have around here, but you need to see it."
Here’s Greg Schiano, right after getting fired in 2013, via NFL.com.
"I'm proud of the culture we created here. On the field I think we're closer than people think."
Here’s Raheem Morris, speaking in 2009 after a loss, via the AP.
“We haven't had the success you would like, but there is no passive, it's OK type of mentality. Those guys are hurting. They want to win those games.''
A winning mentality, a culture shift, getting everyone on the same page, creating feeling in the building, making losing unacceptable — it all sounds great, it all sounds like things are happening, like someone’s actually doing something, or at least found a solid diagnosis we can work with.
Except it’s not. What is “the culture” precisely? How do you change it? Which part of Winston running five yards beyond the line of scrimmage has anything to do with “the culture”? What does missing field goals have to do with “the culture? How is fixing “the culture” going to get you to call a timeout when you need one? In what world is “the culture” responsible for all the injuries the Bucs have faced?
The Bucs are now on their fifth head coach in nine seasons. Each of those coaches had a different approach and a different mentality. Some of them had won before, supposedly establishing winning cultures with their previous teams. One of them even won a Super Bowl with the Bucs. But ultimately, all of them lost a whole bunch of games before getting fired.
Here’s a fact: get good players, get good coaches, drill the players to execute good schemes, get lucky, and win games. Winning will change the culture more than the other way around. When things go well, people grow together. When things don’t go well, discontent and apathy can foster. This is not magic, it’s management 101.
Changing the culture is nice, and I’m sure it’ll help a little. But ultimately, it all comes down to whether you can play football. The best culture in the world isn’t going to make the worst players in the NFL win football games.