One week ago on January 9th a press conference was held at the Oakland Raiders team facility in Alameda, California. At this gathering, the team announced a massive new head coach signing that would shake the foundation of the NFL coaching market. Former Raider coach Jon Gruden approached the microphone after being tapped to return to the position he was removed from over 15 years prior with a gaudy 10-year, $100 million contract in hand.
“I never wanted to leave the Raiders. I never thought I’d be back, but here I am and I’m ready to get to work.”
Hearing Gruden speak about returning to a former team and the good and bad times he shared with fellow players and coaches certainly stirred up feelings of envy within many in the Tampa Bay Buccaneer fanbase. A few weeks prior to the Gruden signing, there were plenty of rumors swirling regarding a potential reunion between Gruden and his Super Bowl winning franchise in Tampa Bay. While these kinds of rumblings have existed for as long as he has been away from the Bucs, never had the “Grumors” felt so real if not likely.
With one fell swoop, however, this gossip was struck down as the Buccaneers announced that they would retain current head coach Dirk Koetter for the 2018 season. While many will lament this decision to keep a moderately unpopular coach over the return of one of the franchise’s most recognizable personalities, and a recent Ring of Honor inductee, the Bucs front office was smart in keeping Dirk Koetter.
Since Jon Gruden’s firing following a disappointing end to the 2008 season that saw the Bucs squander a chance to not only make the playoffs but potentially secure a first round bye and home field advantage in the NFC, Tampa Bay has struggled to find a long term coaching option. Among the four coaches who have taken the reigns following Gruden, only Raheem Morris has lasted more than two seasons at the helm as both Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith held the job for only two seasons. In permitting Koetter at least a third season, the Bucs give him the opportunity to further mesh with and develop the key players he played a part in drafting including Jameis Winston, Kwon Alexander, and Vernon Hargreaves III.
In addition to establishing continuity, the Buccaneers were smart to avoid the obscene blight that a massive 10 year coaching contract would put on the franchise. To lock a team in with a single coach for a full decade is incredibly aggressive no matter the sport or coach but becomes dangerous when given to a man who has been away from coaching in the NFL for a decade.
Lastly, the Buccaneers luck is bound to change. While Dirk Koetter lost and did so often with the Bucs this season, his team more often than not (in seven different games) fought hard just to lose by a single possession. While game management and the ability to close out wins are reasonable gripes for a frustrated fan base, much of the blame rests on factors outside Koetter’s control such as a parade of underperforming kickers and thoughtless penalties.
For now, Oakland will bask in the limelight of the high profile hire while the Bucs must continue to press on with the status quo. As much as fans in Tampa Bay may be lamenting this path, it could turn out to be just the decision that brings this franchise back to the playoffs after a decade long drought.