Dirk Koetter will be coaching his first game as an NFL head coach this weekend, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. He's not nervous
“The thing about that is when you watch all those college games this weekend and you see how many things get screwed up in clock management at the end, you can never really be ready for that clock management stuff that happens," Koetter said today. "Guys that are really good college coaches – and it will carry over to the NFL as well - when you get pressure involved with the clock and the crowd noise, mistakes are made. That’s probably the thing I’d be most nervous about, is just all the situations that come up at the end of the game when the money’s really on the line."
Koetter is right, to an extent, but also wrong. Games can be won and lost in those end-of-game decisions. Close games, especially. Leverage is high in those moments, and small mistakes can lead to big swings.
At the same time, those decisions should be routine, and they come into play throughout a game. Getting the decision to go for it on fourth down right throughout a game can have a much bigger impact than getting a single decision at the end of a game right. Because those seemingly small decisions earlier in the game can snowball into big leads.
The Bucs really haven't lost many games because of late-game decisions in recent years. Mostly, they've lost games because of poor play throughout a game, and poor play at the end of a game. The key has always been how players perform on the field, and the basis for a good performance is laid during the offseason, and in practice throughout the week leading up to a game.
More than that, though. the Bucs have more or less addressed this problem of late-game decisions by assigning the job of figuring out how those decisions should be made, to a dedicated assistant coach. He'll be advising Koetter on what to do, though Koetter will ultimately be making the decisions. If he's smart, he'll listen to his assistant.