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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Emotional Dirk Koetter introduced as Bucs' fourth coach in eight years

TAMPA — This was not on Dirk Koetter’s bucket list.

Sure, the thought of becoming an NFL head coach has crossed his mind now and again. But while Koetter long considered himself qualified for such a job, he never really spent any time pining for one.

“That goes back to my parents,’’ Koetter said. “They always taught me just to do a great job wherever you’re at and in the role that you’re in, and the rest will work itself out.’’

That advice proved prophetic.

After producing his fourth top-10 offense in nine years as an NFL coordinator this past season, Koetter was officially promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach of the Buccaneers on Friday. He is the franchise’s 11th head coach, fourth in eight years.

His contract is for five years.

At 56, Koetter becomes the oldest head coach at the time of his hiring in team history. He replaces Lovie Smith, who was fired last week after producing an 8-24 record in two seasons.

To say the promotion got the better of him would be an understatement.

As he ran through the list of family members, former coaches and colleagues who helped him make the jump to the top of his profession for the first time, Koetter had to stop on a couple of occasions to gather himself and put his emotions in check.

“I don’t know where that came from,’’ Koetter said. “I didn’t see that coming. I’m not apologizing for it. But I am a little tougher than I came across. I just appreciate the opportunity.’’

It’s been a long time coming. Koetter, whose only previous head coaching jobs were at the college level at Boise State (1998-2000) and Arizona State (2001-06), is entering his 34th year as a coach.

He described coaching as the only job he ever really wanted after he watched his father, Jim, coach a variety of sports while Koetter was growing up in little Pocatello, Idaho.

“I grew up wanting to be my dad,’’ Koetter said. “My dad coached every sport – football, basketball, track. I saw what that was like from the time I was tiny, and in those days that meant lining the fields, cutting the grass, fixing the helmets, washing the uniforms.

“I grew up in a house where there was 16-milimeter film on the kitchen table; where there were long hard days and jayvee games, varsity games, playbooks buried in a basement and plays on napkins. Every coaching book ever written was in our basement. I’m a football coach.’’

He’s a football coach oozing with confidence, too much perhaps, Koetter admitted. He’s blunt, too, a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of guy who doesn’t apologize for telling it like it is, no matter the audience.

“He’s brutally honest,’’ said Koetter’s wife, Kim. “He’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks, how he feels.’’

Sometimes he’ll do that with a bit of wit. He can make you laugh, his daughter Kaylee said, but Koetter’s sense of humor, like his speaking manner, often has an edge to it.

“He’s not bland; his humor is really dry,’’ said Kaylee, who has followed in her father’s footsteps and is now an assistant volleyball coach at the University of Tampa.

It’s not all football with Koetter. He’s a movie buff as well as a fan of The Voice and, according to Kaylee, a fan of Jimmy Fallon, though he seldom stays up late enough to watch the host of The Tonight Show.

Right now, though, Koetter is a coach on the mend. He had hip replacement surgery last Tuesday, the day before Smith was fired and Koetter’s name surfaced as the lead candidate to replace him.

Kim thinks the surgery, the firing of Smith and the whirlwind week her husband went through might have sparked the emotions that were on display Friday.

“It’s been a really long week for him,’’ she said. “He has a lot of heart, but I’ve only seen him cry a couple of times.’’

Koetter admitted Smith’s firing might have caused some of his emotions. He came to Tampa Bay a year ago because he wanted to coach under Smith, and thinks he’s partially responsible for his dismissal.

“When I heard Lovie was not being retained, the first thing that goes through your mind is, ‘How could I have helped? How could I have done better?’” Koetter said. “If anybody’s not saying that, then they’re not the right kind of guys. They’re not the guys you want around you.’’

Bucs general manager Jason Licht decided quickly Koetter was the type of guy he wanted as the Bucs’ next head coach. Licht’s search lasted only a week, and during that time he reached a comfort level that reminded him of what he felt a few years ago when he was involved in a coaching search in Arizona that led to the hiring of Bruce Arians.

“There was a point where Dirk became the leader (for this job), and somebody was going to have to knock him off,” Licht said. “But as time went on, it became apparent the more I talked to Dirk, the more I knew he was the guy for us.’’

After running the most prolific offense in Bucs history this past season — Tampa Bay amassed 6,014 total yards and quarterback Jameis Winston become only the third rookie to throw for more than 4,000 yards — Koetter will need to balance his love of offense with the responsibilities of a head coach.

He will, however, continue to call the plays on offense.

“One of my favorite parts of football is the strategy and the game management part, the play-calling part,” Koetter said. “So, I think I’d be foolish to give that up.”

Koetter developed a quick rapport with Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and intends to work closely with Winston in the future, even if their relationship changes a bit now that he is the head coach.

“Trust me, I’ll be spending plenty of time with Jamies,” he said.

To address the defense, Koetter announced the hiring of former Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was among a handful of players who showed up at the team facility on Friday to hear Koetter speak and support the new coach.

“Just from the chatter I’ve heard from my teammates, everybody’s excited,’’ McCoy said. “We feel like we’ve got the right guy. If we were going to replace Coach Smith, we picked the right person, and everybody’s excited.’’

No more excited than Koetter, who knew an opportunity like this might come around one day, but was too busy doing the job he already had to think about what might come next.

“If this opportunity had never come, I would have been fine,’’ he said. “But the flip side of that is, there’s only 32 of these jobs in the world and I know I can do the job. Even though I’m whimpering around up here a little bit today, I’m ready for it.’’

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Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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