TAMPA, Fla. -- There's a strong possibility, with two upcoming games on the road against strong defensive teams, that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) finish the 2018 season with a losing record. The Glazer family, who own the Buccaneers, have retained only one coach after back-to-back losing seasons -- Jon Gruden, who brought them a Super Bowl -- which means Dirk Koetter and his staff will face an uphill climb to keep their jobs.
Over the next three weeks, there will be lots of internal discussions about Koetter's future with the Bucs, so let's get ahead of the conversation. Here are the pros and cons to retaining the 59-year-old coach who has a 19-26 record in Tampa Bay:
Pros: Continuity on offense and an emerging defense
What made Koetter an appealing hire to begin with in 2016 was continuity -- he had made strides as the Bucs' offensive coordinator with quarterback Jameis Winston in Year 1 and helped the offense rank in the top 5 in the league. Promoting Koetter to head coach meant the Bucs could make major changes to the defense without touching the offense.
The same holds true now. Keeping Koetter would allow Tampa Bay to continue running an offense that has maintained a top-2 ranking and is averaging 430.1 yards per game this season. Yes, there have been knocks on the offense's ability to score points, but those numbers have gone up from 20.9 per game last season to 25.5 in 2018 -- a substantial improvement. If a new coach were brought in, there would likely be an adjustment period.
Also, players continue to play hard for Koetter, which proved to be a key reason the Bucs retained him last year despite a 5-11 record. Koetter even called the move "courageous." Several players made it a point to state that they were still fighting for their coach even after the Bucs' Week 14 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Players appreciate his honesty and they know where they stand with him. Koetter's decision to hand over playcalling to offensive coordinator Todd Monken took guts and showed he was more concerned with winning than he was with ego.
The choice to elevate coordinator Mark Duffner in mid-October also proved to be the right call as he has made great strides with the defense. Another point to ponder is if the Bucs fire Koetter, that means Duffner would likely be on the way out (unless the new head coach retained him). Duffner's group is allowing 363.6 yards and 26 points per game compared to the 440 yards and 34.6 under Mike Smith, who was the coordinator for six weeks this season before being fired.
If the Glazers decide someone, namely Koetter, has to take the fall for another losing season, would they consider promoting from within by elevating Monken or Duffner? Or, do they acknowledge that change is exhausting, and Koetter will figure out a way to win more games?
Doing so may be a hard sell to fans at this point. They may want to start over fresh, which leads us to ...
Cons: Too late to act on Smith firing among other things
Some critics would say Koetter's decision to take back playcalling against Washington in Week 10 was a "power move." He could have fired Smith at the end of last season instead of six weeks into the 2018 season. And, Koetter waited too long to part ways with kickers Chandler Catanzaro and Roberto Aguayo.
There are other critics who have questioned Koetter's decision to bench Winston after four games of play this season. Winston had thrown 10 interceptions in four games, but backup Ryan Fitzpatrick had also become prone to turnovers.
Koetter has had issues with clock management and timeouts. The coach was keenly aware that these areas weren't his strengths, so he appointed Andrew Weidinger as a "game management coach."
There's also the occasional head-scratching play call, like a stretch-play backed up in his own end zone that resulted in a safety against the Cleveland Browns in Week 7.
Koetter has also faced criticism for his blunt sarcasm and sometimes-argumentative nature when dealing with the public. He has let it be known that he would rather not deal with news conferences and the media. What works for Bill Belichick won't necessarily work for other head coaches if they aren't winning. And sure enough, when the Bucs have won, Koetter has been praised by some fans.
Other factors loom large
Similar to last season, the Bucs' decision to retain Koetter or let him go will come down to the supply and demand of available coaches as the Browns and Green Bay Packers have already thrown their hats into the ring.
It'll also come down to what type of changes prospective coaches will want to make and how much roster control they will want. There are coaches who may want to come in with their own general manager who shares the same views in terms of organizational structure, schemes and talent evaluation.
That's why a candidate such as Bruce Arians, who has a history with general manager Jason Licht, makes sense. But Arians said in an interview with CBS Sports Radio last week when asked about the Packers job, "If I ever return to coaching, it will only be in Cleveland."
There's also talk that John Harbaugh, a name tossed around in league circles, will stay with the Baltimore Ravens. Would the Glazers look to the college ranks like they did when they courted Chip Kelly and then Greg Schiano?
Also, there's the Winston factor. Some coaches might jump at the opportunity to work with the 2015 first-round pick while others might be wary of the quarterback's off-field issues.
They'll also have to consider the fate of Licht, whom most believe is safer than Koetter. It's not often that a GM survives two head coach firings, but ownership has been very happy with the development of Evans and Cameron Brate and the fact that Licht is drafting players well enough to re-sign to long-term contracts. They might also want to have a football mind in place to help them navigate a new coaching search and what to do next with Winston.
These are all things the Glazers will be considering over the next few weeks.