The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won’t be pushing out a second consecutive head coach after only two seasons, as they will retain Dirk Koetter for a third season, Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reports.
The news that Koetter is returning for the 2018 season puts to rest a report that Jon Gruden — the only coach to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl — was preparing to make his coaching return with the team.
In his first season as an NFL head coach, Koetter led the Buccaneers to a 9-7 record in 2016, which included a five-game winning streak late in the season. The Buccaneers fell short of making the playoffs by one game, but it was their first winning season since 2010.
The Bucs 2017 season has been a big disappointment after the team made upgrades to the roster on both sides of the ball.
But the season has been marred by injuries, including quarterback Jameis Winston missing three games with a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. Running back Doug Martin and the ground game have been stuck in neutral, and last season’s best defense on third down ranks as the NFL’s worst in 2017.
Koetter’s return is likely tied directly to the second-half improvements of Winston. The 2015 first overall pick’s development is the main reason Koetter replaced Lovie Smith prior to last season, and amid rumblings of a fractured relationship between the coach and quarterback, Winston has authored arguably the best four-game stretch of his career since returning in Week 13 from a right shoulder injury.
Though Tampa is 0-4 over the stretch, Winston has tossed eight touchdowns against just two interceptions, tallying a passer rating north of 112.7 in three of the past four games. The recent surge has elevated his overall rating (96.5), completion percentage (65.0) and yards per attempt (8.0) to easily the highest marks in his three NFL seasons.
Ownership believes the organization and Winston need stability, even with reports that surfaced of a rift between the quarterback and coach — an issue Winston has denied.
“I think he has taught me a lot, especially just me playing quarterback,” Winston said Thursday. “You just don’t understand that relationship in that quarterback room. We spend so much time together — me, him, Coach Mike Bajakian [and] those other quarterbacks — it’s like a family. Everybody has their different characteristics, but at the end of the day we all love each other.”
Koetter will be the first Buccaneers coach to reach a third season since Raheem Morris in 2011. Lovie Smith, who led the Buccaneers to an 8-24 record in 2014-15, and Greg Schiano, who went 11-21 in 2012-13, were fired after two seasons.
But, that doesn’t mean Koetter won’t have potential hurdles to clear in 2018, including an ongoing NFL investigation into Winston’s alleged sexual misconduct and potential impending divorces with high-profile offensive stars DeSean Jackson and Doug Martin.
Jackson is under criminal investigation for a one-car accident on Christmas Eve, when an abandoned automobile registered in his name was found by authorities to have marijuana and two hollow-point bullets inside.
Martin was suspended by the team for a rule violation two weeks ago and is nearing the end of another disappointing season, in which he’s averaging merely 3.0 yards per carry, that began with a drug suspension.