Dirk Koetter Promotion Keeps Focus on Jameis Winston, Bucs' Budding Offense

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 15, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 29: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look on against the Indianapolis Colts during the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts defeated the Bucs 25-12. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Jameis Winston is the driving force behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' decision-making process. 

This isn't a bad thing. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and it's evident the Buccaneers are building everything around Winston after his successful rookie campaign. 

On Thursday, the Buccaneers made the move everyone expected them to make, and it's the right one. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, they will hire offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter as the team's 11th head coach.

By retaining Koetter, the organization fully acknowledged this is Winston's show. Even though Tampa features All-Pro performers like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, the Buccaneers haven't been able to change their losing culture. 

Winston, on the other hand, won't settle for a 6-10 record. He's not willing to acquiesce to veterans and find his place in the league. He put the team on blast after the regular-season finale, a 38-10 blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 20:  Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 20, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

"We're going to create a mindset this offseason, I guarantee it," Winston said, per ESPN.com's David M. Hale"We're going to create a winning mindset, a relentless mindset of being able to persevere over adversity. We'll have that next year."

While trying to get the most out of its newly minted franchise quarterback, Tampa decided previous head coach Lovie Smith wasn't the right mentor.

"When you have eight wins, and three home wins, in two years, you’ve been patient enough," general manager Jason Licht said after the coach's dismissal, per Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com

Instead, the Bucs turned to Koetter. According to the Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman, the ex-offensive coordinator's relationship with the former No. 1 overall pick became a large part of the team's decision to promote him:

Koetter interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday, but he never developed into a serious candidate. 

However, his value to the Buccaneers couldn't be higher. 

In his first year, Winston played every snap, threw for 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns and made a strong case to be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

Winston credited his offensive coordinator with his smooth transition to the NFL. 

"The way Coach Koetter trains us is that we have to know our personnel groupings and our play calls," the quarterback said in November, per ESPN.com's Andrew Astleford. "So just thinking about the situation and knowing our game plan, I can think about the few plays that we had in those situations and went off of that."

Koetter, meanwhile, remained amazed by how well Winston digested his playbook. 

In December, per Buccaneers.com's Joe Kania, the coach said: 

Jameis is unbelievable how quick he can look at a game plan, take it out on the field and just in a walk-throughit really is impressive. That’s one thing that has amazed me, and I’m not easily amazed. That has really amazed me about how fast he can pick things up. It’s not just lip service when he gets up there and talks about learning and getting better. He is really into it, and he’s a fast learner.

This symbiotic relationship proved beneficial for both, and the organization decided to commit to it. 

Of course, the team wasn't happy with a 6-10 record. However, Koetter provides continuity, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. 

That might not be important for some franchises after another sub-.500 campaign, but the Buccaneers improved by four games after a two-win 2014 season. Tampa's biggest growth came on the offensive side of the ball. 

Bucs Offense: 2014 vs. 2015
Points Per Game17.321.4
Total Offense (Yards)292.0375.9
Run Offense85.9135.1
Pass Offense206.1240.8

As a whole, the unit finished fifth in total offense. In his first season as Tampa Bay's play-caller, Koetter's offense improved by 83.9 yards per game compared to its 2014 output.

Obviously, Winston's presence and weekly improvement drastically changed a unit that relied on veterans Josh McCown and Mike Glennon a year earlier. But the rookie signal-caller wasn't the only individual to benefit from Koetter's play-calling. 

Running back Doug Martin experienced a career revival. After running for 1,454 yards as a rookie, the former first-round pick only managed 950 rushing yards during the following two seasons. 

In 2015, the Dougernaut returned to form and finished second in the NFL with 1,402 yards. 

Winston also wasn't the only young player on the roster to display continued growth. Second-year wide receiver Mike Evans set new career highs with 74 receptions and 1,206 receiving yards. 

Plus, the team's much-maligned offensive line improved throughout the campaign, and it'll only get better next year since a pair of rookies—Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith—will be in their second seasons under Koetter. 

Each of these improvements played in Koetter's favor even when the Buccaneers interviewed Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. 

As Tampa Bay moves forward, it will build around its offense. For Koetter to succeed long term, Winston's development might be the primary focus, but he'll need to find a way for the defense to improve as well, as ESPN.com's Louis Riddick noted: 

For Koetter, his "side of the ball" is important because he'll continue a hands-on approach with Winston, but his ability to hire a competent defensive coordinator will go a long way in the team's overall success. 

While Lovie Smith hasn't advocated a pure Cover 2 scheme in a long time, his overall system felt antiquated and struggled to adjust to today's game. Yes, the Buccaneers finished 10th in total defense, but the bend-but-don't-break approach didn't work since Tampa gave up 26.1 points per game, which ranked 26th overall. 

A chance to improve on the defensive side of the ball should be Koetter's No. 1 priority because Tampa will need to stop opponents to legitimately improve. If Koetter can't do that, the continuity he brings to one side of the ball won't mean much. 

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 15: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers speaks with Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter before the preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on August 15, 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

But that's jumping too far ahead. 

Right now, the Buccaneers hired the man they wanted all along. Lovie Smith didn't provide the results the organization wanted. Koetter did with a rookie quarterback, and the team's former offensive coordinator is now its head coach as a result. 

All great coaches are matched with a franchise quarterback. There may be other areas of the team that need to be improved, but the play of the quarterback trumps all. Winston proved to be everything Tampa expected after it made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, and Koetter benefited the most. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.


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