The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ weeklong search for a new coach ended a few steps down a hallway at One Buc Place.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who joined Lovie Smith’s staff this season, was finalizing a deal Thursday night to replace the fired Smith as coach.
General Manager Jason Licht selected Koetter — a Pocatello native, former Idaho State player and Boise State and Arizona State head coach — from among at least two other known candidates who interviewed for the job: Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
The Bucs were expected to announce the hiring of Koetter in a press conference Friday afternoon, nine days after Smith was dismissed.
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On Friday, Koetter’s daughter, Kaylee, tweeted: “1st time a family meeting didn’t=a move. Always have and always will be so proud of my dad. Excited to still have family in Tampa. #GoBucs’’
The hiring also means all three Idaho universities have produced an NFL head coach: Koetter, Tom Cable and Dennis Erickson (Idaho) and Marvin Lewis (Idaho State).
The hiring of Koetter, 56, had been anticipated since the Bucs fired Smith. Licht called Koetter a “strong candidate’’ from the outset, and the promotion keeps the best part of the 2015 team intact.
The Bucs set a franchise record for total offense in Koetter’s first season in Tampa, with quarterback Jameis Winston joining Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as the only rookies to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. Running back Doug Martin (Boise State) earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors after finishing second in the NFL with 1,402 rushing yards.
“(Koetter) put a good resume in front of him this year,” Licht said last week. “Historically, it’s the best offense we’ve had here in Tampa Bay. He’s a good communicator. He’s done great things with Jameis. There’s a lot of good coaches out there, and Dirk is one of them.”
In hiring Koetter, the Bucs opted for continuity for Winston, who overcame a slow start to pass for 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and score six rushing touchdowns. The Bucs set a club record with more than 6,000 yards of offense and finished fifth among the league’s 32 teams in total offense, Koetter’s highest ranking in nine years as an NFL offensive coordinator.
Reaction from players, many of whom disagreed with the firing of Smith, was largely positive. The Bucs owe Smith $10 million for the final two years of his contact.
“Dirk is a great coach,” tackle Gosder Cherilus said. “I think Jameis can really flourish in his system once he learns the whole system. All the guys that I spoke to were hoping he gets the job. He’s well-liked in the building.”
Tackle Demar Dotson said he believed Smith deserved another season but welcomed Koetter as the head coach.
“It was a shock to hear about Lovie being fired so soon,” Dotson said. “And I believe he deserved another year to produce a winning program in which he was headed toward. Other than that, congrats to (Koetter), and I wish him the best.”
The Bucs wrapped up a busy day of NFL coaching decisions Thursday. Koetter, who is recovering from hip surgery, interviewed for the 49ers’ coaching job last week. The Niners hired former Eagles coach Chip Kelly. The Giants promoted offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to replace Tom Coughlin, and the Eagles appear committed to hiring Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.
Koetter has been an NFL offensive coordinator since 2007, with three seasons in Jacksonville and five in Atlanta before joining the Bucs in 2015. He spent nine years as a head coach in college, going 26-10 at Boise State from 1998-2000, then 40-34 in six seasons at Arizona State. Koetter’s teams went to bowl games in four of his last five seasons, but he also had a 2-19 record against ranked teams.
Koetter is the Bucs’ fifth coach since 2008, following Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Smith. Across the NFL, only the Browns and Raiders have had more coaches in that span. Koetter also is the oldest head coach ever hired by the Bucs.
The Bucs believe Koetter will provide them with a more animated and vocal leader who will hold players and assistant coaches accountable.
Koetter’s biggest challenge will be to fix a defense the underperformed in two seasons under Smith. The Bucs finished 26th in scoring defense this season, allowing 26.1 points per game. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was told the team would not pick up his option for 2016. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen and linebacker coach Hardy Nickerson are the only main position coaches who have been retained on the defensive staff until Koetter selects his staff.
There is speculation that former Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who also worked with Koetter in Jacksonville, could be a candidate for the defensive coordinator’s job.
Tampa Bay hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and hasn’t won a playoff game since winning the Super Bowl in January 2003. Smith was fired Jan. 6 after going 8-24 in two seasons.
The Bucs had improved from 2-14 in 2014 to a 6-6 record in December this season and playoff contention, but they lost the final four games of the season to finish 6-10 and in last place in the NFC South for the fifth year in a row.
Dirk Koetter’s Idaho ties
- Born: Pocatello (Feb. 5, 1959)
- High school: Highland (graduated in 1977, member of the Highland Hall of Fame)
- College: Idaho State quarterback, 1978-81 (graduated in 1981; master’s in athletic administration, 1982)
- Head coaching jobs in Idaho: Highland (1983-84), Boise State (1998-2000)
- Notable: Won NCAA I-AA national championship as a player in 1981; won state high school championship as a coach in 1984.
- Personal: Koetter and his wife, Kim, have four children — Davis, Derek, Kaylee and Kendra. By coincidence, Kaylee played volleyball at the University of Tampa and is now an assistant coach with the Spartans.