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Koetter Makes the Hard Choice – But Will It Be Enough?

It can’t be easy to fire a good friend. Someone you’ve worked with for two decades, whose family you know and knows you. A guy you’ve won with before. It can’t be easy to admit you were wrong to give him another chance. Yet, there was Dirk Koetter, standing in front of the media at One Buccaneer Palace Advent Health Training facility, trying his best to articulate why he decided to fire his friend, Mike Smith.

Ultimately, we all know the reason why. He didn’t have a choice.

“I didn’t ever see this day coming but it’s here,” Koetter told reporters. “So we have to make decisions that give us the best chance for our football team moving forward. That’s all you can do.”

It was the only decision that could be made when your defense, of which you spent millions of dollars in draft capital and free agency dollars, is threatening the record books as one of the most historically bad defenses in the annals of the league. It was the only decision when you have an offense that is one of the league’s best but can’t outscore a defense that is by far the worst. You had to do it to try and save the jobs of the rest of the coaching staff, all guys with families, too, that will all be looking for work if the Glazers blew this thing up. It may not work, but it’s at least something.

Much like the days when Warren Sapp roared on the sidelines pleading for the offense to give them just 17 points and they would win the game, the Bucs offensive players are looking at their defense saying, “Just keep them to 24, and we’ll win.” He did it as much for the psyche of the team, on both sides of the ball.

“(It was the)second most difficult (thing he’s had to do as a coach). Mike and I worked together in Jacksonville as coordinators and I worked for Mike in Atlanta,” Koetter solemnly said. He mentioned in the official statement released by the team that “We all understand that this is a result-based profession and our results to this point have not met our standards.”

I can’t imagine what Koetter was going through. I wonder if he second-guessed himself not making the change before the season started. Perhaps he hoped the new editions via free agency, trade and the draft were all “Smitty” needed to get his defense fixed. Somehow, it got worse. By not making the change before the season, linebackers coach Mark Duffner is thrust into a role he hasn’t held in nearly two decades, calling a defense that isn’t his (although he was with Koetter and Smith in Jacksonville and has familiarity with this defense). We can only hope the Duffner is more aggressive a play-caller than Smith was. More blitzing, more man coverage, simplifying things for the younger secondary. According to the Pewter Report, in 2001, Duffner’s first year as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, the Bengals defense allowed the unit’s fewest single points (309) since 1989 and the fewest yards per game (302) since 1983. The Bengals also set a franchise single-season record for sacks that year with 48, which was a mark that stood for 11 years. That, however, was a long time ago – a different era in the league, when you could sneeze on a quarterback and not draw a 15 yd personal foul.

Duffner has over 40 years of coaching experience in college and professional ranks, so he’s no novice. The question is can he get these Buccaneers on the same page and playing good defensive football?

It won’t be easy, he inherits a lot of the problems Smith has had (and may not have Gerald McCoy available for a few games, either).  The only thing certain is it can’t possibly be much worse than what Bucs fans have seen this season. Before the bye, Koetter brazenly said, “If we fire Mike Smith, what’s next?”

Well, Mark Duffner – and if that doesn’t work – the unemployment line. This team has too much talent on the offensive side of the football to see games given away and end up with another losing season.

J.C. De La Torre

Want to give JC a piece of your mind? E-mail him at JC De La Torre is formerly a columnist/blogger for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers blog site where in 2016, he was nominated as best sportswriter in Tampa Bay by Creative Loafing. Previously, he served as a featured columnist for Bleacher Report on Tampa Bay sports, an editor and featured columnist for SB Nation Tampa Bay covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Gators, wrote for’s Blog Blitz and contributed to Pewter Report, one of the top magazines on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. JC is also a filmmaker, comic writer and rabid Whovian.

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