When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers basically transitioned to Dirk Koetter from the firing of Lovie Smith, things were supposed to be better. And while it did get better, to some degree — offensively, the team never truly improved.
But surprisingly enough keeping many of the coaches from the Lovie-days wasn’t even the biggest mistake(s) he made. In three seasons, Koetter managed to create drama, force people to pull their hair out, and seal his own fate.
Here are three of Koetter’s biggest failures in three seasons as head coach of the Bucs.
Season 1: Never developed a running game
This phase of the game hurt many aspects of the Buccaneers potential explosiveness on offense. In 2016, new head coach Dirk Koetter came in and vowed to be a run-first football team. His idea never materialized and in his first year as head coach Tampa Bay averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
At the time, Doug Martin was said to be the bell-cow for the offense but averaged 2.9 yards per carry while Jacquizz Rodgers averaged 4.3 and Peyton Barber averaged 4.1. This was the beginning of a stubborn side of Koetter that carried (no pun intended) well into his final season as the Bucs head coach.
The offensive line was blamed by many, but ironically enough Rodgers and Barber averaged better numbers than Martin did behind that same line. Koetter’s inability to adjust, see the difference in running backs, and sticking with Martin were the reasons why the Buccaneers running game failed in 2016 and was never ever able to recover throughout his tenure as head coach.
Season 2: The poor handling of Winston’s injury
In 2017, franchise quarterback Jameis Winston missed three games due to an injury to his throwing shoulder. He missed three games (Weeks 10-12) but many felt he should have been benched much sooner for it to heal.
There were rumblings that Winston’s shoulder was actually injured during their Week 3 game against Minnesota. Winston struggled throwing the football as normally a plus 60-percent completion rate was barely getting over 50-percent in the following five of six games. It wasn’t until Week 9 against New Orleans where the shoulder was “aggravated” after “initially” injuring it three weeks prior in Arizona.
Winston would return and average a 68.7-percent completion percentage in the final five games of the 2017 season. Many feel if the injury was handled differently much sooner the season could have played out differently.
Season 3: His loyalty
Dirk Koetter made the obvious move of hiring his friend Mike Smith to be defensive coordinator. When he did, Smith vowed during his introductory press conference that his defense would put his players in position to be successful.
That clearly never happened.
Koetter defended Smith to the death until he was finally left with no choice but to fire Smith following their Week 6 loss to Atlanta this season. Under Smith, the defense finished 23rd in 2016, 32nd in 2017, and was ranked last in points per game, passing yards per game, and red zone touchdown percentage at the time of his firing. As the offense made mistakes, they were able to overcome them and put points on the board but it was too much for Smith’s defense to overcome their own mistakes.
While the firing of Smith was warranted, Koetter waited too long to make the move. And hiring his friend was perhaps the biggest mistake Koetter made as the head coach of Tampa Bay — and the reason why this Buccaneers team didn’t win more than what they potentially could have.