Buccaneers fire coach Dirk Koetter after 3 seasons
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Dirk Koetter seemed resigned to his fate.
The coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was fired Sunday night a little more than three hours after the Bucs concluded a disappointing season with a 34-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Koetter was promoted from offensive coordinator to his first NFL head coaching position when Tampa Bay fired Lovie Smith in January 2016. He led the Bucs to a 9-7 record that year, but followed up with consecutive 5-11 finishes.
His successor will be the sixth coach will be the fifth coach the team has had since firing Jon Gruden after the 2008 season. The Bucs have missed the playoffs 11 straight seasons and haven't won a playoff game since their Super bowl run under Gruden in 2002.
"I'd love to finish out my contract, of course I would," Koetter said during his postgame news conference.
"Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and that's just the way this business works," he added. "If this is the last one for me, I appreciate the opportunity they gave me. It's awesome to be a head football coach in the NFL. Coaching in the NFL period is awesome. It's the best of the best."
The Bucs started 2-0 this year, and then lost 11 of 14 down the stretch, including four straight games to finish the season.
Koetter, who had a 19-29 record, was dismissed after meeting with team ownership after the news conference.
"We sincerely appreciate the hard work and commitment shown by Dirk over the past several years," Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement.
Glazer said general manager Jason Licht would begin the search for a new coach immediately.
Koetter was asked if he believed he deserved to keep his job after constructing an offense that ranked among the league leaders this season, including No. 1 in passing yards.
'There is no such thing as deserve in the NFL," he said. . Numbers are nice but this is a winning league. I've been fired before and I've been hired before. I know this, if look yourself in the mirror at end the day and know you did everything you could, then I've no problem holding my head up."
Licht, whose record since taking over as general manager five years ago is 27-53, apparently is keeping his job despite a spotty track record in the draft and free agency, where Tampa Bay has made numerous mistakes - especially in Licht's effort to overhaul a porous defense.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith was fired in October with the Bucs yielding a NFL-high 34.6 points a game through the first six weeks of the season.
The team also must decide this winter whether Jameis Winston is the team's quarterback of the future. Koetter was named coach, in part, because of his relationship with the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft, however Winston has not blossomed into the dominating quarterback the team envisioned him becoming under Koetter's guidance.
Winston, finishing his fourth season, is due to earn $20.92 million next season in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie.
"It's an empty feeling when you lose, no matter how you lose. It was an up and down year and didn't turn out how we wanted it to turn out,''" Winston said, adding he has not been told if he will return in 2019.
Winston and other teammates continued to express support Koetter right up to the end.
Receiver Mike Evans, who set a club single-season record for receiving yards this year, called playing for the former coach "awesome."
"The fans might put stuff on him. That's how sports works. You look at the head coach, Evans said. "I'm very fortunate to have played for him. "He took my game to new heights."
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