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Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter initially preferred Marcus Mariota

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For the new offensive coordinator, the new quarterback was an acquired taste.

In the early days, long before the draft and the season, Dirk Koetter was in the minority around the Tampa Bay Bucs. In those days, he studied Jameis Winston, and he studied Marcus Mariota. He liked Mariota better.

Koetter admitted it to reporters while at the NFL Combine this week.

“There were other people convinced way before I was that this was the guy,” Koetter said during a break at the NFL scouting combine. “And part of that was because all the things that other people were telling us about him — all those superlatives they were throwing around, all the way up to (Florida State coach) Jimbo Fisher — I’ve heard all that before.

“But until you actually are in there for a full season with a guy, until you see that guy come to work and he’s there at the facility at 5:45 every morning and you see that really is him, you just don’t know.’’

That season turned out to be a good one for Winston and Koetter. Winston threw for more than 4,000 yards, and the Bucs’ offense was very good in yardage, leading Koetter to get the head coaching job.

“We were basically comparing two really good players – Jameis and Mariota,’’ Koetter said. “And my job was more the film evaluation part. Other people were evaluating all the other stuff.”

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who worked with Koetter at three stops, was an advocate for Mariota. But other Bucs’ scouts preferred Winston.

“Mark is telling me, ‘You guys are idiots. You’re not going to draft Marcus Mariota? You guys are stupid,’” Koetter said. “Well, that’s a guy I’m really close to. So it became clear that both guys had good intangibles, had really good intangibles.”

In the end, Koetter was sold.

“I just learned so much about Jameis during the season,” Koetter said. “What a worker he is, how much he cares about winning and cares about his teammates. And then on the field, Jameis made some plays with his legs that I was going, ‘I never saw that coming.’ He never showed me that in (offseason workouts) or training camp or preseason.

“I wasn’t expecting him to run and dive over guys in the end zone or to make that run he made in that second Atlanta game. But that’s heart, that’s willpower and desire to win. Now, I’m a true believer that Jameis is off the charts,” said Koetter.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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