Dirk Koetter promoted as Buccaneers new head coach

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are turning their rebuilding project over to Dirk Koetter.

The longtime NFL offensive coordinator on Friday became the team’s fifth coach since 2008, succeeding Lovie Smith, who was fired after going 8-24 over the past two seasons.

Koetter’s selection wasn’t a surprise. He helped No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston become just the third rookie in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards this season and was identified by general manager Jason Licht as a “very strong candidate” when Smith was fired last week.

“Dirk has established himself as one of the top offensive coaches in our game while enjoying success at every stop during his college and NFL career,” Bucs chairman Joel Glazer said. “His success with our offense last season, along with his familiarity with our players and our organization, makes Dirk the right man to lead our team moving forward.”

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The Bucs went 6-10 this season, missing the playoffs for the eighth straight year. But the offense set a franchise record for total offense.

“When I started this search … the focus was on finding someone that could be a strong leader as well as a consummate teacher, and Dirk is both,” Licht said. “He brings the passion and drive that will re-energize our organization and help us establish the winning culture that will help us become the championship-caliber team that our fans deserve.”

Licht also interviewed Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott as potential replacements for Smith, who lost his job in part because of an inability to fix the team’s defense.

Koetter joined the Bucs last winter and helped transform one of the NFL’s least productive offenses into one that gained more yards than any in franchise history.

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The Bucs finished fifth in total offense, with Winston joining Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as the only quarterbacks since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to throw for 4,000 yards as rookies. Doug Martin, meanwhile, rebounded from a pair of subpar seasons to be the league’s second-leading rusher with 1,402 yards.

Koetter led top 10 offenses in Jacksonville and Atlanta before moving to the Bucs. While this is his first opportunity as an NFL head coach, the 56-year-old was head coach at Boise State from 1998-2000 and at Arizona State from 2001-06.

Tampa Bay improved by four wins this season under Smith, but the team finished on a four-game losing streak.

Koetter’s top priority this offseason will be fixing a defense that has had difficulty keeping opponents out of the end zone.

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The Bucs improved from 25th to 10th in yards allowed this season; however, they were 26th in scoring defense, yielding 26 points per game.

Smith was hired two years ago, in part because his defenses routinely ranked among the best in the league when he was a coordinator with the St. Louis Rams and during a nine-year stint as coach of the Chicago Bears, who won three division titles and appeared in two NFC championship games and one Super Bowl under his guidance.

But the Bucs actually took a step back defensively this season with Smith taking over play-calling responsibilities from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Koetter, meanwhile, emerged as a logical successor after developing a nice relationship with Winston and helping the rookie quarterback make a relatively smooth transition to the pros.