TAMPA, Fla. -- With coach Dirk Koetter's firing and with the expectation that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are picking up Jameis Winston's fifth-year option (it's guaranteed for injury until March 13, 2019 at 4 p.m. ET), the primary focus will be on the next head coach to get the team's franchise quarterback back on track.
The Bucs surrounded Winston with enough offensive weapons to be the envy of the NFL in 2018, but struggles with consistency and turnovers caused him to regress.
So, who should the Bucs bring in to help Winston rise to his fullest potential? Elevating offensive coordinator Todd Monken, whose attention to detail helped the offense improve significantly in scoring in 2018, would keep the offense intact. Or, what about promoting interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, whose defense showed substantial improvement when he took over in Week 7?
As far as outside the organization, sources tell ESPN the Bucs were taking a long, hard look at John Harbaugh before the Baltimore Ravens announced he would return to 2019. Could he be pried away? According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, "at least one team pondering a head-coaching change is considering calling the Ravens to inquire about Harbaugh."
Could general manager Jason Licht, who worked with Bruce Arians in Arizona, lure him out of retirement? Arians and Winston have a relationship that goes back many years, from when Winston attended his youth summer camps in Birmingham, Alabama.
"He would be fun to coach, there’s no doubt about it," Arians previously said of Winston. "He’s a winner and a great leader and obviously a heck of a young quarterback."
Does Norv Turner, who revitalized the Carolina Panthers' offense this season, have aspirations to be a head coach again? Some in league circles say he's better suited as a coordinator, and the Bucs have a much different set of personnel on offense than the Panthers.
Would the Bucs be willing to take a shot at an up-and-comer? What about John DeFilippo?. Despite what happened in Minnesota, he was lauded last season for his work as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach. Is he ready to become a head coach or does he need more seasoning as a coordinator?
What about Eric Bieniemy, who is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs? Bieniemy was promoted after Matt Nagy left to coach the Chicago Bears. Between Nagy and Doug Pederson, Andy Reid disciples have had a ton of success recently and have orchestrated quick turnarounds.
Speaking of Chicago, Vic Fangio has done a masterful job as the defensive coordinator of the Bears. He's been the coordinator of five different NFL teams since 1995.
Will the Bucs try to go outside the box again like they did when they went after Chip Kelly but instead landed Greg Schiano? The college ranks are ripe with bright minds such as Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma or Matt Rhule at Baylor. Is Bob Stoops really done coaching? What about Jimbo Fisher? Hey, he knows Winston rather well. Would any of those coaches want to interview with a NFL team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2007?
Whoever is brought in needs to take time to get to know Winston and understand he still has a desire to "do too much," and give him a system that allows him to take risks but also affords him the option for safer, higher-completion throws.
Some would argue that an offense like Koetter's, which was predicated on a strong vertical attack downfield, exposed Winston's propensity for taking too many risks. Would a safer West Coast system similar to what Jay Gruden operates be a better fit? Giving him more balance with a stronger offensive line and ground game could help.
The Bucs' next coach also needs to provide the type of nurturing relationship he valued under former coach Lovie Smith. At 24, Winston is still young and maturing as a quarterback and an adult. Plus, Tampa Bay cannot afford nor will it stand for another off-the-field incident.
That coach must be stronger in areas Koetter fell short in -- in-game adjustments, decision-making and clock management. He needs to demonstrate some control over his locker room, too. Making DeSean Jackson a game captain two weeks after he requested a trade and griped publicly about his situation isn't doing that.
The Bucs' next head coach needs to understand that while he isn't responsible for the organization's failures to produce a winning product since their last playoff appearance in 2007, he will still bear the brunt of fans' long pent-up frustrations. And he has to be OK with that until he can turn things around. There will also be little patience from ownership, as seen with their track record of firing coaches after only two or three seasons.
The tradeoff is that sweeping changes don't necessarily have to be made, although questions remain about how the Bucs continue to impose self-inflicted wounds. That was something Koetter tried to tackle throughout his time in Tampa and made progress on, but he ultimately couldn't fix.
Winston is still the Bucs' QB for now, and Licht has assembled a talented cast.
The Bucs need a coach who can take them and Winston to the next level.