In the beginning, they lost.
In the middle, they drafted poorly.
In recent days, they have had a coaching carousel.
For the Tampa Bay Bucs, all of it has led to a losing culture and bad players and coaches who couldn’t measure up to the challenge of turning the team around.
Now, three games into his coaching stint, Dirk Koetter has noticed.
After his team’s 37-32 loss to the Rams on Sunday, Koetter talked about a needed change in the culture of the team.
“When I say ‘around here,’ I hope no one confuses that,” Koetter said. “When I’m talking about the culture, I’m talking about the culture of our football team, I’m not talking about our organization, I’m not talking about ownership, I’m not talking about this building, I’m not talking about our fans, I’m talking about the 53 players, the 10 practice squad guys and however many coaches we have. The guys that are coming up with the game plan, putting the game plan together and trying to execute the game plan.
“The best teams that I’ve been on beat with one heart and they count on the guy next to them to do their job every time, and they win and lose together. And maybe our fans have cheered for a team like that at one point.
“Hopefully, all of our players have played on a team (like that). I know when I’ve been on teams like that, you can feel it and man, you want to grab it and hold onto its tail because it’s elusive. When you don’t have it, you can also feel it.
“We’re just missing something, I feel like – and as my title suggests, it’s my job to speak up. I feel like sometimes we find too many ways to lose a game instead of creating ways to win a game. Now, when I say that, I put myself right at the top. I’m number one on that list, so I’m not calling out any player or any coach above myself, but that’s just how I feel. And until we change that, we’re going to have nights like last night.”
What is a winning culture? Koetter knows it when he feels it.
“It’s elusive, it’s an elusive thing,” Koetter said. “It’s not something that you can reach out there and put your fingers on. I think our guys believe for the most part, but I talked to the guys a lot about this today in the team meeting, and as I’m sure you can understand, a lot of that needs to stay between the players and the coaches. I know the fans are going to speculate – hey, this is our most popular game in the world, I get it.
“We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to find it, and I just don’t think we should sit back and act like it doesn’t exist because in my eyes it does. I’ve been on those teams that have it, and we’re going to keep looking for it until we find it.”
The culture of losing started with 0-26. It continued with not re-signing Doug Williams or getting Bo Jackson signed. It went on with coaches like Leeman Bennett and Ray Perkins and Raheem Morris. It was a culture of drafting Booker Reese and Eric Curry and Keith McCants and Kenyatta Walker. It was there with quarterbacks Vinny Testaverde, Josh Freeman and Josh McCown. It was about signing free agents like Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson.
And here the Bucs are, off to a bad start and now facing the Super Bowl teams in Denver and Carolina.
Will it ever change? Maybe.
If the Bucs are smart.
If they are aggressive.
If they have a solid front office.
And if they don’t have their potential game-winning streaks stopped at the five-yard line.