Even before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Lovie Smith on Wednesday, rumors had already begun to swirl about the team potentially favoring offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter moving forward.
Smith's defense had failed miserably in back-to-back seasons, while Koetter was able to guide one of the best offense performances in franchise history, with a 4,000-yard rookie quarterback and a first-team All-Pro running back.
Once Smith was let go, it didn't take long for fans and analysts alike to speculate the Bucs' ownership made the move in reaction to the attention Koetter was getting from other teams regarding their head-coaching vacancies. Had the Bucs gotten rid of Lovie to make sure they kept a good thing going with Koetter and his offense? It makes plenty of sense.
But while Koetter appears to be the leading candidate among media and fans alike (as this Twitter poll I'm currently running will attest to), a deeper look at his last stop as a head coach reveals some alarming facts.
Koetter's record as the leader of the Sun Devils was middling, as the former Boise State head coach went 40-34 over six seasons at Arizona State after an impressive run with the Blue Turf Broncos. But it was what happened off the field that should have Bucs fans, and ownership, concerned.
Some of Koetter's questionable (at best) decisions were outlined in this article from John Dougherty of the Phoenix Sun-Times, dated September 6, 2007. Much of the early focus of the article was on the school's decision to hire Dennis Erickson as Koetter's replacement. But about halfway through the piece, Koetter's red flags start to pop up:
In the months leading up to the March 26, 2005, murder of Brandon Falkner, then-coach Dirk Koetter did everything possible to get his star running back, Loren Wade, back on the team.
Wade had been suspended from the team in fall 2004 after accepting payments from an athletic department friend with whom he'd had a sexual affair. Wade missed the rest of the 2004 season, but by early 2005, Koetter had decided to reinstate the running back. Koetter made that decision even though he'd received extremely troubling information concerning Wade's behavior.
Koetter was aware that Wade had threatened to kill a female gymnast. Koetter also had received a report from ASU's women's soccer coach that players were terrified because Wade possessed a gun. He also knew that Wade's girlfriend had called police, fearing Wade was going to destroy her apartment after he threatened her life.
Rather than report Wade's increasingly dangerous behavior to campus police or to student-affairs authorities, Koetter elected to counsel Wade personally.
Koetter's decision allowed Wade to careen out of control in early 2005. If campus police and university authorities had known he was carrying a gun and making death threats, he almost certainly would've been expelled from ASU.
It's hard to read those words and not be convinced that Koetter's decision to prioritize keeping his starting running back over his safety and well-being, and that of the Arizona State community, and that his decisions indirectly led to someone's death.
But while a university investigation admitted that "errors in judgement" were made by Koetter in handling Wade, he was not reprimanded by the school. Not only that, he was even given a contract extension and a raise later that same year.
The problems didn't end there for Koetter:
After suspending Wade in 2004, Koetter named Hakim Hill starting running back. Koetter had suspended Hill in 2001 after Hill was charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. Hill pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault causing injury and Koetter reinstated Hill to the team in 2002. Hill led ASU in rushing in 2004 but was kicked off the team again before the 2004 Sun Bowl for getting in a fight with a teammate.
That's right. Koetter reinstated a player who admitted to sexaully assulting a 15-year-old girl.
Koetter is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by an ASU student alleging she was sexually assaulted in her dorm room by defensive back Darnel Henderson in March 2004. No criminal charges were filed against Henderson, who was kicked off the team in April 2004. The lawsuit filed in March 2006 alleges that Koetter and ASU "created and fostered an environment that encouraged inappropriate behavior by football players, including sexual harassment of female students and other women."
Arizona State eventually settled that lawsuit, agreeing to pay out $850,000 to the victim.
Many Bucs fans were unhappy with the Bucs for drafting Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, after he had been accused of sexually assualting a fellow student while at Florida State. Winston was never charged and was exonerated my multiple investigations, but the issue was a major sticking point for many, and remains so for some.
Considering the backlash over the drafting of Winston (who was never charged or convicted), I wonder how Bucs fans, or the Glazers, feel about their potential new head coach having reinstated a player to his team who had admitted to sexually assaulting a minor. Or was sued for "fostering an environment" of sexual harrassment and inappropriate behavior by his players.
Koetter seems to be the hot name when it comes to the Bucs' search for a new head coach, and there's no denying the on-field success his unit had in 2015. But Koetter clearly has some skeletons in his closet, and the Glazers will have to confront them before pinning their future on him.
There's no other way about it: the Bucs HAVE to get this hire right. They can't afford to waste what they have in Jameis Winston, a talented offense filled with young play-makers, a defense led by veterans like Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy, and a rookie in Kwon Alexander. The patience of the fan base is wearing thin, and it was impatience that led to Lovie Smith's firing. But the Bucs shouldn't be so hasty to replace him that they ignore the the concerns of Koetter's past.
Is Koetter the right man for the job? Does this change your perception of him? Find us on Twitter @TBBucsOnScout and let us know!