Dirk Koetter: Percentages say go for it on fourth down, but if I fail I’m out of here

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Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter says there are two choices on fourth down: Play the percentages, or play it safe. And he usually chooses to play it safe.

The Buccaneers kicked on every fourth down in Sunday’s win over the Saints, and when Koetter was asked about that afterward, he acknowledged that the analytics have shown that going for it on fourth down is often the wise move. But in the next breath, Koetter said he doesn’t want to risk going for it on fourth down at the wrong time, perhaps costing his team a game and himself a job.

“The percentages say you should go for it almost every time,” Koetter said. “We’ve studied the analytics on it and the problem with looking at it like that – those are all looking at all fourth downs over the course of the season. You might get three in a row, but if I don’t get it in this particular game, we might be losing, and I might be out of here. We’ve got a plan for every game. We have a plan for the season and then we do an analytical plan based on the team we’re playing. There’s analytic number that tell you what to do on every play, but this game isn’t played by computers. It’s combination there – you’ve got to make decisions in real time and not look back.”

It’s true that a coach who goes for it on fourth down more often might make three in a row and then get stopped on a key fourth down that costs his team a game, and if that happens the coach will be criticized and maybe even fired. But a coach refuses to go for it on fourth down also risks losing, being criticized and fired. In NFL coaching, your job is always on the line. You might as well fight for your job with every weapon available to you, and one of those weapons is analytics, which have consistently shown that going for it more often on fourth down is wise.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson understands that. Pederson has embraced analytics and was the NFL’s most aggressive coach on fourth down last year during the regular season, and continued his analytical approach in winning the Super Bowl.

Pederson’s success ought to be a lesson to other coaches about going for it on fourth down, but some coaches are stubborn. Shortly before Koetter was promoted from the Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator to head coach, he scoffed at analytics, saying, “I don’t need a freaking piece of paper with a bunch of numbers on there” to make his decisions. That mindset may be changing thanks to Pederson’s success, but it’s changing slowly.

59 responses to “Dirk Koetter: Percentages say go for it on fourth down, but if I fail I’m out of here

  1. If he plays it safe all season he is going to lose his job anyway. You can’t win with field goals. The late Tony Sparano taught us that. Doug Pederson taught us last year it takes some intestinal fortitude and trust in your team if you want to hoist the hardware at the end of the year.

  2. The coach is worried about a single decision costing him is job? In week 1? Isn’t he only in his 2nd season? Who’s running things down there? If I’m a player, that interview certainly was not a confidence builder in terms of where we are going this season

  3. >>Dirk Koetter: Percentages say go for it on fourth down, but if I fail I’m out of here

    Then thats on the owner and president and GM.
    You play to win, not to lose with honor.
    If rather go for it and lose by even more, knowing that I have a 10% chance of turning a loss into a win.
    If you punt on 4th and 2 from your 20 in the 4th quarter down by 2 TDs you are a loser, unless you have an insanely good team and feel comfortable you can still make that up.

  4. Another case where perception is just as important as reality.

    Guys like Belichick have a longer leash because of their track record. Also, the fact that Robert Kraft is so supportive is really helpful too.

  5. I read an article years ago about a high school coach who always went for it on 4th down and always onside kicked.
    And it worked most of the time.
    His philosophy was if you punted or kicked off you were giving the other team the ball and an opportunity to score.

  6. He needs to start going for it if he even wants to have a job at the end of the year they need at least a wildcard spot for Dirk to stay so unless he wants to be unemployed he should probably rethink this statement.

  7. Kind of unfair to be a dead man walking like that in Week 2 and when Fitzpatrick is your QB. Unless Koetter demanded they draft Jameis Winston, this isn’t probably fair.

    Licht was done a poor job so far, where it sort of comes off like Glazer is calling the shots there, because nothing Licht has done are things BB would have done down there.

  8. plusevfootball says:
    September 15, 2018 at 11:18 am

    Another case where perception is just as important as reality.

    Guys like Belichick have a longer leash because of their track record. Also, the fact that Robert Kraft is so supportive is really helpful too.

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    Right, but BB created that track record with is vision. There are numeroius books out on the Pats, many of which were written back in 2004 and 2005. Pats Management Secrets Vol 1 and 2, you can find the reasons why. It has to do with the cap, WHAT kind of player they want and why, and being consistent and disciplined with the approach.

    Meanwhile, most, if not ALL Of the league just flies by the seat of its pants and does what they want, ignoring the cap, encouraging primadonnas, bloated salaries, ignoring drafting and development, etc.

  9. Dude, if you’re worried ‘bout losin’ your job, then you should be a position coach.

    “Riverboat Ron” Rivera, head coach of the Cam-rolina Panthers, would certainly disapprove.

  10. .
    There’s many more factors that go into a 4th and one decision than a stat sheet. What’s the score? How much time is on the clock? Where’s the ball? Who has the momentum? How has your running game done earlier in the game? Are any of your offensive players injured? The list goes on and on.
    .

  11. Football always favors defense (that’s why there is the position of punter and kicker). Going for it on 4th and 10 inside your own 40 is generally a fools decision (there is a reason why the team didn’t advance the 10 yards needed for the first). If 4th and 3 or less psychologically you need to treat this as any other play, and not going for it. Play it like it’s 1st down.

  12. The main thing is that you need a supportive owner. The reason Pederson has been able to have his success doing so is because Lurie understands and supports the analytical viewpoint. In his tenure Doug has both won and lost games because of this but maintains his security because the owner understands what he’s doing and why.

  13. tylawspick6
    Sep 15, 2018, 11:34 AM EDT
    Kind of unfair to be a dead man walking like that in Week 2 and when Fitzpatrick is your QB. Unless Koetter demanded they draft Jameis Winston, this isn’t probably fair”

    Koetter absolutely DID NOT want inFamous Jameis, remember he was the OC at the time. That was a Glazer (sell tix with the FSU connection) and Lovie (mentor a young man who makes bad decisions) deal. Koetter was essentially told “this is what you get.”

    That being said, as others have said, if you’re coaching scared, you’re not coaching to win.

  14. Why is the media touting this as a new thing? Jimmy Johnson used to be incredibly aggressive on fourth downs. Belichick has always been.

    You play to win the game. Koetter got conservative at the end of the Saints game and almost blew a 48-24 lead. You have to keep your foot down on the gas pedal.

  15. “uys like Belichick have a longer leash because of their track record. Also, the fact that Robert Kraft is so supportive is really helpful too.”

    The Pats have gone for it on 4th down many times under Belichick, often succeeding. There have been a couple times in big games they didn’t though, and a coach who had been doing poorly at that point might well have put a final nail in his coffin by doing so.

  16. Koetter losing his coaching job is nothing. Someone should show him the analytics on gamblers who have their house and their marriage riding on critical fourth downs.

  17. Here is the problem that coaches fail with from day one. You have to be committed to it. You have to be committed from day one of Training camp on this is who we are. Yes statistically it is the right move but stats fail to account for humans and their feelings for the moment, this isn’t Madden. Make 4th down like any other down and you will be far better at converting it but you have to do it all the time. I wanted the Packers to do this when they had Jordy and Cobb in their prime. Only punt far in your own territory.

  18. There is no “One size fits all situations” strategy when it comes to going for it on fourth down. Dirk Koetter is smart enough to know that. You have to take each situation into account and weigh the risks of what happens if you don’t make it and turn the ball over.

  19. gscott104 says:
    September 15, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    tylawspick6
    Sep 15, 2018, 11:34 AM EDT
    Kind of unfair to be a dead man walking like that in Week 2 and when Fitzpatrick is your QB. Unless Koetter demanded they draft Jameis Winston, this isn’t probably fair”

    Koetter absolutely DID NOT want inFamous Jameis, remember he was the OC at the time. That was a Glazer (sell tix with the FSU connection) and Lovie (mentor a young man who makes bad decisions) deal. Koetter was essentially told “this is what you get.”

    That being said, as others have said, if you’re coaching scared, you’re not coaching to win.

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    Thank you. That was my guess but I figured a Bucs can could clarify. As stated above, owner meddling with ego and greed, means failure for the GM and Coach.

    And, if you notice, this happens in the weaker sports markets, usually in the Southeast and in CA, where fans are not as passsionate as they are in the better markets.

    I would not accept a job if I knew the owner was going to do meddling with myself as the GM or the Coach.

    Period.

    You’re going to fail.

    If your main goal is PSL sales, ticket sales, sell outs, etc, with gimmicks and hype, you’re going to fail.

  20. everyone in here saying he coaches scared and will lose bc of that were most likely the same armchair geniuses laughing and calling Belichick an idiot when he went for it on 4th and 2 vs colts up by 6 bc his d hadnt stopped manning all game, so opinions really mean squat.

  21. God Pats fans are pathetic. Whenever another coach is getting lauded u guys cant wait to tell every1 how Bill invented it and does it better.

    Sorry but Billy is 0-1 vs Doug and Pederson went for 2 and on 4th down at a clip never seen before in the NFL. Including in his own territory on the winning drive of Superbowl LII. 41-33.

  22. Was Pederson’s strategy analytics based or attitude/mentality based?

    In the little bit I heard him talk about it, he seemed to say he wanted to stay aggressive and on the attack.

    I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but he seems to say it was attitude/mentality, from what I’ve heard.

  23. tedmurph says: “Coaching scared costs games too. Kust ask Dan Quinn or Doug Marrone.”
    ==========================

    Falcons got crucified for being too aggressive with Matt Ryan passing (even though he was 16 for 20, and the running game died in the 2nd half) and not just running the ball and settle for a FG.

    Seattle got crucified for passing on 2nd down at the goal line (even though Lynch was a pathetic 1-for-5 that year at the goal line and the 1yd TD pass was actually MORE successful than the 1yd TD run).

  24. The MUCH BETTER ALTERNATIVE – Get a QB that is accurate, especially throwing the deep ball, and CAN read defenses… A better Offense that Averages at least 3.5 yards-a-play and NEVER put the team in the 4th down option…

  25. “Pederson’s success ought to be a lesson to other coaches about going for it on fourth down”
    ++++
    That’s the problem. All head coaches have this issue. Analytics has been around for a long time. Everyone in all sports knows this, but many choose to ignore it.

    If Peterson was wrong half or most of the time, Philly may not have been in the playoffs last year. Let alone winning the Super Bowl.

    If all head coaches were secure in their job for the duration of their contract, a certain percentage, or maybe all head coaches, would go for it on fourth and five, or less. Even in the first half.

    However, that’s not the case.

  26. tylawspick6 says:
    September 15, 2018 at 1:29 pm
    ——————–

    Thank you. That was my guess but I figured a Bucs can could clarify. As stated above, owner meddling with ego and greed, means failure for the GM and Coach.

    And, if you notice, this happens in the weaker sports markets, usually in the Southeast and in CA, where fans are not as passsionate as they are in the better markets.

    I would not accept a job if I knew the owner was going to do meddling with myself as the GM or the Coach.

    Period.

    You’re going to fail.
    ___________________________

    Happy to be of service. I turned in my fan card after the Winston drafting, that was the last straw in a series of terrible ownership moves – (Raheem Morris debacle, Greg Schiano bigger debacle, MRSA, the new hideous unis, the way Lovie was handled, etc)… And I was a fan since I was 6 in 1978. It all started going downhill when the Glazers allowed Chuckie to force out Rich McKay and then the Glazers bought Manchester United, which started sucking up all their cash.

    Sorry, I needed to vent. I started to come around last week with FitzMagic.

    Anyway, I don’t know that I agree with your premise of that being limited to the Southeast or California. Here are three examples of meddlesome owners –

    Redskins
    Cowboys
    Browns

    Redskins and Cowboys are (or at least were) two of the proudest and most storied franchises in the NFL, not weak markets – and they have meddlesome owners. Browns… well… Not a weak pro sports market, and a passionate fan base.

    I also think the Pegulas have the potential to be meddlesome owners.

    But I do agree that when owners get involved in football decisions, you’re doomed.

  27. lebricks306yxe says:
    September 15, 2018 at 3:02 pm
    Was Pederson’s strategy analytics based or attitude/mentality based?

    In the little bit I heard him talk about it, he seemed to say he wanted to stay aggressive and on the attack.

    I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but he seems to say it was attitude/mentality, from what I’ve heard.
    _______________________________

    It’s both but the analytical aspect has played a huge part, he has someone in his ear telling him his chances during the game etc to help with these disicions

  28. We are gonna beat the doors off Foles and the Feagles tomorrow and when we do Coach K will make the decision that ultimately saves his job…sticking with Fitz. After that the only whining heard will be coming from the most classless fanbase in the NFL. Here’s looking at you Philly! Go Bucs!!!

  29. Happy to be of service. I turned in my fan card after the Winston drafting, that was the last straw in a series of terrible ownership moves – (Raheem Morris debacle, Greg Schiano bigger debacle, MRSA, the new hideous unis, the way Lovie was handled, etc)… And I was a fan since I was 6 in 1978. It all started going downhill when the Glazers allowed Chuckie to force out Rich McKay and then the Glazers bought Manchester United, which started sucking up all their cash.

    Sorry, I needed to vent. I started to come around last week with FitzMagic.

    Anyway, I don’t know that I agree with your premise of that being limited to the Southeast or California. Here are three examples of meddlesome owners –

    Redskins
    Cowboys
    Browns

    Redskins and Cowboys are (or at least were) two of the proudest and most storied franchises in the NFL, not weak markets – and they have meddlesome owners. Browns… well… Not a weak pro sports market, and a passionate fan base.

    I also think the Pegulas have the potential to be meddlesome owners.

    But I do agree that when owners get involved in football decisions, you’re doomed.

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    Oh, I fully realize it doesn’t have to be just teams in the SE or California that feel a need to get fans excited with some gimmicky moves.

    And, absolutely the teams you listed have entitled, big ego owners.

    It’s just so simple: If you are patient, take the time to do it right, you get rewarded in the end.

    These owners are so greedy, they see a flatline of team revenue for 2-3 years during a concerted rebuild as a failure, as opposed to something strategic that you believe in.

    Short term vs long term.

    What I mean about SE teams, Florida teams like Miami and TB, Jax, too, Atlanta. NOs, Carolina, etc, these aren’t top flight pro sports markets.

    I noticed Jon Robinson, also a BB protege, just gave Malcolm Butler 30 mil guaranteed to be a nickelback playing on the outside, and he gets torched by Tannnehill and Stills last Sunday for a 77 yd TD.

    But, then I realized Amy Adams may have told him to do that, regardless or true market value, because of the cache Butler brings from his SB 49 heroics.

    Stuff like that. BB knows Butler is only worth 7-8 mil per, Chris Harris money, yet Jon Robinson doesn’t think that? Do these guys learn anything or is it that the owners are really the ones telling them what to do?

  30. You obviously have to use common sense according to the situation, but if you’re going to go down you might as well go down swinging, not with the bat on your shoulder.

  31. @ tylawspick6

    I think you’re letting your Pats bias and the luxury of having perhaps the best owner in the NFL cloud your view of everyone else. Kraft hires smart people and (mostly) stays out of the way. Not everyone is as lucky to have such a well-run organization.

    If you own an NFL team, you have a license to print money – to the tune of tens of millions a year. But, if you own an NFL team, odds are (with a few exceptions like Kraft and the Hunts come to mind) you have a gigantic ego and feel the need to let everyone know how smart you are – and even Clark is starting to get into this a bit.

    Hire smart football people, let the money machine print money for you, and otherwise sit back and enjoy the ride. Why complicate it?

  32. Not to discredit Pederson at all, but no one’s talking personnel. He had two running backs in Blount & Ajayi, that could push the pile, a mobile QB in Wentz, plus an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks last season. You can have all the guts in the world, but a coach has to have the roster, too.

  33. Koetter is 100% correct if you understand what he’s saying. I understand. When you look at statistics and analytics, you have to use that information wisely. When Koetter says the game isn’t played by computers, what he’s saying is it’s played by football players. So if you want to really look at analytics and statistics, you’ll see that the teams with the best QB’s have won most of the super bowls, and the coaches that are in the Hall of Fame all had HOF QB’s. In other words, a coach will be far more successful and therefore keep his job when he has a Tom Brady and Gronk to use on 4th down. Or a Bart Starr or Joe Montana, or Troy Aikman. Pedersen and Koetter would probably be on the same exact page if they had the same exact players. What analytics was Barry Switzer using when he won his super bowl? It was whoever was analyzing QB’s the year they drafted Troy Aikman #1. Ask Jerry Jones. Maybe Jerry should have kept using the same analytics after Aikman retired, because they certainly haven’t been as successful. That’s the long version of what Koetter was trying to say.

  34. Are the analytics showing the success based on the success rate of the coaches that go for it? Most of those ‘go for it’s’ are 4th and 1 in enemy territory. If you do it every time you then are including 4th and 20 at your own 15. The success rate is going to change if you go for it every time.
    So is the rate of failure of the D due to short fields. Maybe the analytics should look at ‘always go for it after crossing the 50 and/or if under 10 yards to go.’

  35. Only 2 top 10 offenses didn’t make the playoffs last year Bucs & Chargers. Hard divisions, schedules, and bad defenses will do that. Those teams are definitely up and coming.

  36. bringbackkosar says:
    September 15, 2018 at 11:29 am

    best guide to winning football: ask what would Hue Jackson do in this situation, then do the opposite
    —————————–

    Your screen name made me chuckle. Your comment made me laugh. Well played!

  37. It’s like blackjack.

    Hit on a 16 against a 10 or not?

    The percentages say you shouldn’t try to time it. Hit or don’t hit.

  38. Koetter absolutely DID NOT want inFamous Jameis, remember he was the OC at the time. That was a Glazer (sell tix with the FSU connection) and Lovie (mentor a young man who makes bad decisions) deal. Koetter was essentially told “this is what you get.”
    ___________________________

    True, Koetter wanted Mariota. Fortunately no one was listening to him.

  39. patsrthegreatest says:
    September 15, 2018 at 5:36 pm
    Not to discredit Pederson at all, but no one’s talking personnel. He had two running backs in Blount & Ajayi, that could push the pile, a mobile QB in Wentz, plus an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks last season. You can have all the guts in the world, but a coach has to have the roster, too.

    1 0 Rate This
    _______________________________

    He didn’t in 2016 and was still aggressive, to the extent that it cost games. It didn’t stop him though, he kept doing what he thought was right

  40. This is what Moneyball was all about. Coaches and managers like to to things “the right way,” that is, the way it’s always been done, because if they can’t be criticized for it. This might cost them games, but in the absurd world of professional sports, that is the smart move. However, the real right way depends entirely on the situation.

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