The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released a statement at 7:24 p.m. on Sunday night indicating that Dirk Koetter would be relieved of his head coaching duties. The message from team Owner/Co-Chairman Joel Glazer also stated that General Manager Jason Licht would be conducting the search for Koetter's replacement.
Shortly thereafter, Licht's cell phone began to light up.
The Buccaneers are in search mode for a head coach because they just concluded their second straight season with a 5-11 record and a fourth-place finish in the NFC South. Except for the occasional retirement, NFL head coaching jobs generally do not open up on teams that are coming off successful campaigns. The next Buccaneers head coach will be asked to turn the ship around and steer it back to the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, which will be no easy task.
However, there are only 32 of these jobs available, and they are all coveted to some degree. Licht believes that there is quite a bit about the opportunity in Tampa that will attract potential candidates, including supportive owners, a state of the art facility and a young core of talent that includes an established quarterback.
"First, I think you start with ownership, who is letting us, collectively, do our jobs," said Licht. "You can start also with the facilities. I think we have a young, core group of talented players that, combined with – Dirk did some fantastic things offensively, a historical season in some regards in a lot of categories. And just, as Dirk said last night in his press conference, we have a great locker room. So you’ve got a young quarterback, there’s a lot of things to like. Like I said, based on texts and people reaching out to me that are interested in the job, I can see why. I can tell you that it is an attractive job."
Licht also guided the process that led to the hiring of Koetter three years ago. That one came after the dismissal of Lovie Smith and covered nine days, eventually turning back inward to Koetter, who had been Smith's offensive coordinator. Despite the internal promotion, that search was extensive and detailed, and the current one will be too. It will end differently, though, as the team will definitely be bringing a new leader into the building.
"We’re going to look outside the organization for this hire," Licht confirmed. "I think there’s some good football coaches here, really good football coaches here on staff. But we’re going to give this new head coach the ability to decide whether or not to retain them and they’ll be able to seek employment elsewhere in that timeframe if they so choose."
As to those talented coaches already in the building, some could be back, though that decision will be left up to the new head coach upon his arrival. Licht said that the Bucs' assistants will be allowed to pursue other opportunities during the team's search for a new head coach if they so desire.
"Yeah, we have a few guys who are under contract for 2019," said Licht. "Once again, the new head coach will have the ability to retain those guys and those guys are good football coaches too. It’s just a crazy business that we get into and it’s unlike most other businesses. It is results oriented and we all have to answer the tough questions and go through tough times because of it. But there [are] a lot of good football coaches that I hope the new head coach considers, but he is not going to be handcuffed to those guys."
There is no set timetable for Licht to conclude his search and for the team to make a hire, but Licht said he understands that there will be competition for promising candidates with seven other NFL teams now in the same process. The Buccaneers are not focusing their search on a coach who has a specific offensive or defensive background, and while Licht has cultivated many relationships working for five different clubs over 22 seasons in the NFL, he will not be limited by those ties in this process.
"I think I said this last time, too, that I’m not going to get in the way and let an ego get in the way of getting the right guy here," said Licht. "My job, right now, is to get the best fit of a head football coach, period. So whatever has to be done has to be done. I think I want to get to know these guys throughout this process. Just because I know somebody doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the right fit for the organization. Throw the ego aside, it’s what is best for this organization, best for ownership, best for these players, best for the staff. Just the best fit, period. Just because I know somebody doesn’t necessarily mean they would be the right fit."
The result of Licht's methodical search will be the 12th head coach in franchise history. None of the previous four have been able to get the Buccaneers back into the playoffs. Licht intends to find the person who will help him change that.
"We are determined to get back on track," he said. "And we're determined to find that person that's going to lead us into those successful years that we're all anticipating."