The headline is that Dirk Koetter will return for the Buccaneers in 2018. The clear implication is that Jon Gruden won’t be returning to the Buccaneers in 2018.
Between the lines, there’s a lot more intrigue than that.
The news, as leaked by the Buccaneers to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times late Friday afternoon, is that ownership decided — on Friday afternoon — to stick with Koetter. They didn’t decide it yesterday or last week or last month; it wasn’t a no brainer. The Glazer family specifically and affirmatively came together and decided — on Friday afternoon — to stay the course.
So what happened to cause the Buccaneers to decide on Friday afternoon to keep Koetter? Based on the fact that they often know who they’ll hire before they fire their current coach, it’s very fair to speculate that they were talking to someone else (Gruden) and that, for whatever reason, the talks fell apart.
The next question is whether the talks can un-fall apart. The fact that the Buccaneers gave Koetter a private assurance means not all that much. If whatever it was that caused Plan A to crater puts Plan A back on the front burner, the Buccaneers can still move on from Koetter, if they so choose.
What’s that, you say? That’s no way to treat a coach? Frankly, the Bucs haven’t shed many tears over potential bad looks in the past. They lined up Raheem Morris before firing Gruden in 2009, and many still believe that the Koetter-for-Lovie Smith maneuver from early 2016 was calculated, too.
If, in the end, they tell Koetter he’s returning and then out of the blue they fire him and interview a few candidates and hire Gruden, what will be the consequence? The end result will be Gruden as the head coach of the team, and that will go a long way toward getting any unhappy fans to get over the fact that Koetter was lied to.
If, in the end, Koetter stays, the fact that his status for 2018 wasn’t decided until two days before the last game of the season puts him firmly on the hot seat for next year.