Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Nuts and Bolts of the Bucs Coaching Search

The Buccaneers have begun the process of locating the 12th head coach in franchise history after Dirk Koetter was relieved of his duties…What will that search entail?


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers relieved Head Coach Dirk Koetter of his duties on Sunday, at the end of his third season in that job, and his fourth year overall with the team. The Bucs posted a 19-29 record under Koetter, finishing 2018 with a 5-11 mark after Sunday's 34-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

The Buccaneers will now begin the process of hiring the 12th head coach in franchise history. Here are some of the things you need to know to follow along with the Bucs' search.

Who will the new coach be succeeding?

In the most immediate sense, Koetter, obviously. But the next occupant of the head coach's office at the AdventHealth Training Center will be following 10 other men who have previously held that post: John McKay (1976-84), Leeman Bennett (1985-86), Ray Perkins (1987-90), Richard Williamson (1990-91), Sam Wyche (1992-95), Tony Dungy (1996-2001), Jon Gruden (2002-08), Raheem Morris (2009-11), Greg Schiano (2012-13) and Lovie Smith (2014-15).

McKay had the longest tenure of that group, nine seasons, though it began with a tough rise from expansion-team status that included 26 straight losses before the Bucs' first win. McKay did get the Bucs into the playoffs in just their fourth season of existence, and two more years after that. The Bucs also made the playoffs four times in Dungy's six seasons at the helm, advancing to the NFC Championship Game in 1999. They made it back to the postseason three times under Gruden, beginning with a run to the Super Bowl title in his first year, 2002. Those three coaches are all in the Buccaneers' Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs did not make the playoffs during the tenures of any of the other eight coaches on the list.

Where have the Buccaneers looked for new head coaches in the past?

The Buccaneers' first head coach, McKay, came directly from the college ranks, and the Buccaneers repeated that approach in 2012 with Schiano. Bennett, Perkins, Wyche, Gruden and Smith had all previously been NFL head coaches. Williamson was promoted from within after Perkins was fired with three games remaining in 1990; he had previously been the assistant head coach/wide receivers coach. The Buccaneers did the same thing with Morris in 2009, as Morris had briefly been named the team's new defensive coordinator before getting another promotion after the club chose to move on from Gruden. Koetter was also hired from within the team's own ranks, moving up to the head job after one year as the offensive coordinator under Smith. The Buccaneers gave Dungy his first head coaching job after he had served as the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.

In addition to getting coaches from the college ranks, hiring former NFL head coaches and giving NFL coordinators their first shots at a head job, the Buccaneers have also been involved in a trade during one coaching search. In 2002, the Bucs sent two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a sizeable sum of money to the Oakland Raiders for the right to hire Gruden.

Will the Bucs be competing with any other teams for coveted coaching candidates?

Three other teams are currently searching for new head coaches, as of Sunday night. The Green Bay Packers fired Mike McCarthy in December and the Cleveland Browns moved on from Hue Jackson in October. Those teams have been led by interim head coaches Joe Philbin and Gregg Williams, who could be retained, but it's likely both teams will at least consider other options. The New York Jets fired Todd Bowles late Sunday night.

Additional openings could arise. Last year, five of the six teams that fired their head coaches either did so during the season or within a day of its end. One other head coach, Arizona's Bruce Arians, retired the day after the Cardinals' season finale. The exception was Tennessee, which made the postseason under Mike Mularkey but parted ways with him on January 15, the day after a playoff loss to New England. To borrow an example from the Buccaneers' own franchise history, the team did not immediately make a change at the end of a 9-7 season in 2008 but then later dismissed Gruden on January 16.

UPDATE: As of Monday afternoon, four more teams had officially announced the dismissal of their head coaches: Steve Wilks in Arizona, Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Vance Joseph in Denver and Adam Gase in Miami. That brings the total of teams searching for a new head coach to eight.

Who will lead the search for the Buccaneers' new head coach?

Buccaneers Owner/Co-Chairman Joel Glazer made this clear on Sunday night: The search will be led by General Manager Jason Licht.

"We sincerely appreciate the hard work and commitment shown by Dirk over the past several years," said Glazer. "Working with Dirk has been a pleasure and we wish him and his family all the best in the future. Our search for a new head coach will begin immediately and will be conducted by General Manager Jason Licht."

Licht has been the Buccaneers' general manager since 2014, succeeding Mark Dominik. Dominik and Head Coach Greg Schiano had been relieved of their duties on December 30, 2013. Licht was hired on January 21, 2014, which was after the team had already named Lovie Smith as their new head coach on January 2. Licht was put in charge of the coaching search in 2015 after the dismissal of Smith, a process that eventually resulted in the promotion of Koetter. Thus, this will presumably be the first time that Licht leads a head coaching search for the Buccaneers that results in the hiring of an outside candidate.

When will that search begin?

Immediately. Depending on which candidates the Buccaneers want to interview, they could begin doing so right away.

There are, however, some restrictions on candidates whose teams are in the playoffs. Teams are not allowed to negotiate a contract or announce the hire of an assistant coach from another team until that team's season is over. Unsurprisingly, the assistants – particularly offensive and defensive coordinators – who are widely considered strong head coaching candidates are coaches who have helped guide their teams into the playoffs. That can slow down the process.

There is a window for some of those assistant coaches to interview for head jobs. If a coach's team has earned a first-round bye, he can talk to other teams during that open week, right up until the end of the final Wild Card game. Coaches on the teams that win Wild Card games can also then interview for jobs in the following week, up through the end of the Divisional Round.

Also if a coach uses one of these windows to interview for another team's job and his team goes on to the Super Bowl, he _is_ allowed to conduct a second interview with that team during the first of the two weeks between the Conference Championship round and the big game. Obviously, the purpose of these rules and exceptions is to interfere as little as possible with a team's playoff preparations but also keep good candidates from missing out on opportunities with teams that don't want to wait.

Are there any other requirements in how the Bucs conduct their search?

Yes, the Rooney Rule. Named after the late Dan Rooney, former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, this rule requires a team to include minority candidates among its interviews for a head coaching vacancy (and other senior football positions). There are no hiring requirements, however.

The rule has been in place since 2003 and, on a few occasions, has led to teams drawing fines for non-compliance. The NFL recently announced some upcoming revisions to the Rooney Rule in an effort to make it more effective. For instance, teams must now interview a minority candidate from outside their own organization. The league also has a career development advisory panel that produces a list of potential head coaching candidates for teams, though not strictly minority candidates.

What is the timetable for the Buccaneers hiring a new head coach?

The franchise usually doesn't put specific limits like that on a hiring of this importance. That said, NFL teams generally try to come to a decision on a new head coach fairly quickly, simply because they don't want to lose a coveted candidate to another opportunity. In addition, a new coaching staff will want as much time as possible to evaluate the roster and begin implementing their own systems before the new league year begins in March.

Three years ago, the Buccaneers made the decision to dismiss Smith on January 9 and officially named Koetter as his replacement nine days later. Smith's hiring in 2014 was officially announced on January 2, three days after Schiano had been fired. As noted above, the Buccaneers moved on from Gruden in mid-January, and in that case they simultaneously announced the promotion of Morris.

Gruden's hiring, on the other hand, was the rarer instance of a search stretching on past January. The Buccaneers considered a number of candidates after dismissing Dungy, including former 49ers Head Coach Steve Mariucci, but team ownership had its sights set on Gruden, who had just finished his third year as the head coach in Oakland. The Buccaneers and Raiders eventually worked out the deal mentioned earlier and Gruden was announced as Tampa Bay's new head coach on February 18.