Jim and Barbara Koetter sat in their Pocatello home Friday afternoon, watching their son, Dirk, as he was introduced as the head coach of the Buccaneers.
The Koetters aren’t exactly sure when their son decided to be a football coach, though second grade is a good guess. That’s when little Dirk walked home from Syringa Elementary School with three diagrammed plays on a sheet of wrinkled paper.
The 50-year journey reached its peak Friday when Koetter was given a five-year contract and keys to a rising offense that includes quarterback Jameis Winston. Koetter, previously the offensive coordinator with the Bucs until head coach Lovie Smith was fired earlier this month, will continue to call plays. He’s hired former boss and Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith to run the defense.
“We’re very proud,’’ Jim Koetter told the Idaho Statesman. “It’s kind of an accumulation of a lot of hard work and hard moves in his life, and I really think he’ll do a great job.
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“He’ll put a good staff together because he’s easy to work with. Players like his approach to how he coaches. He’s always well-prepared and he’s an outstanding teacher. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned and that will make him a success.’’
Koetter broke down four times during his press conference at the team training facility, initially in the first few minutes when he mentioned his parents and Pocatello.
“Yes, that caught me off guard a little bit,’’ said Jim Koetter, who won championships as a coach at Highland High, Pocatello High and Idaho State. “He had the major (hip) surgery (last week), the wait to get the job, I think it all just kind of caught up to him.’’
Said Dirk Koetter: “It’s one of the happiest days of my life, but also one of the most humbling. Long time in the making. ... Happy, humbling, emotional day.’’
A reporter asked Koetter if he is a player’s coach, which opened the door for him to reflect more on his Pocatello days.
“I grew up wanting to be my dad from the time I was very little, and my dad coached every sport. Football, basketball, track. I saw what that was like from the time I was tiny,’’ he said. “In those days, that was lining the fields, cutting the grass, fixing the helmets, washing the uniforms, 16 millimeter film on the kitchen table. Long, hard days. JV games, varsity games, weight room, teaching guys how to squat. Buried in a basement. Playbooks, notepads, napkins, plays all over the place. Every coaching book every written was in our basement. I’m a football coach.’’
Koetter, a former Idaho State quarterback and Boise State head coach, is Tampa Bay’s fifth coach since 2008, succeeding Smith, who was fired after going 8-24 over the past two seasons. He assumes the task of transforming a team that has finished last in its division five consecutive seasons into playoff contenders.
“There’s 32 of these jobs in the world. I know I can do the job, even though I’m whimpering around up here a little bit today,” said Koetter, an offensive coordinator for three clubs over the past nine years. “But nothing that’s said here today will affect us one bit in wins and losses. That all comes later. There’s a lot of work to be done to get to the wins and losses part.”
Koetter’s selection wasn’t a surprise. He helped Winston, the No. 1 overall draft pick, become the third rookie in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards this season and was identified by General Manager Jason Licht as a “very strong candidate” when Smith was dismissed with two years and $10 million left on his contract.
Financial terms of Koetter’s contract have not been announced.
“Dirk has established himself as one of the top offensive coaches in our game while enjoying success at every stop during his college and NFL career,” Bucs Chairman Joel Glazer said. “His success with our offense last season, along with his familiarity with our players and our organization, makes Dirk the right man to lead our team moving forward.”
The Bucs went 6-10 this season, missing the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
“We wanted a leader who could get the most out of his players. We wanted an experienced teacher … and most importantly we wanted someone who would establish a winning culture that eventually would bring championships to Tampa,” Licht said. “Dirk Koetter was all those things.”
Licht also interviewed Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott as potential replacements for Smith, who lost his job — in part — because of an inability to fix the team’s defense.
“Everybody is excited and we feel like we got the right guy,” four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “If we were going to replace coach Smith, we picked the right person and everybody is excited. He won’t have to worry about what’s going on internally. He'll definitely have the support of us.”
Koetter joined the Bucs last winter and helped transform one of the NFL’s least productive offenses into one that gained more yards than any in franchise history. His first order of business as coach was hiring Smith as his defensive coordinator.
“Experience counts a ton in this league. The NFL is an experience league,” said Koetter, who worked with Smith, when the former Falcons coach was defensive coordinator in Jacksonville and later as Smith’s offensive coordinator in Atlanta.
“To get a coach with Mike’s experience, not only as a defensive coordinator, as a teacher, as a head coach but as a man, as the right kind of guy we want in front of our players every day, I couldn’t be happier,” Koetter added.
The Bucs finished fifth in total offense, with Winston joining Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as the only quarterbacks since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to throw for 4,000 yards as rookies. Doug Martin (Boise State), meanwhile, rebounded from a pair of subpar seasons to be the league’s second-leading rusher with 1,402 yards.
Koetter led top 10 offenses in Jacksonville and Atlanta before moving to the Bucs. While this is his first opportunity as an NFL head coach, he was head coach at Boise State from 1998-2000 and at Arizona State from 2001-06.
Tampa Bay improved by four wins this season, but the team plummeted out of playoff contention while finishing on a four-game losing streak. The Bucs last earned a playoff berth in 2007 and haven’t won a postseason game since their Super Bowl run 13 years ago.
“This team is headed in the right direction,” Koetter said, noting that’s he’s inheriting a “really good” nucleus of talent.
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.