NFL

Coaching Moves Not About Change For Giants And Buccaneers

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Almost every time an NFL team hires a new head coach it’s with the goal of taking the team in a new and often drastically different direction. This year however, the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers each promoted their offensive coordinators to head coach, in the interest of continuity and helping their quarterbacks continue to work within the same offense.

Despite the fact that Giants quarterback Eli Manning will be entering his 13th NFL season in 2016, and Jameis Winston is just coming off of his rookie year with the Buccaneers, the two former first-overall picks and their teams have quite a few things in common.

In New York, the Giants veteran signal caller has enjoyed two of his best statistical seasons in Ben McAdoo’s West Coast style offense, while Tampa Bay’s rookie quarterback and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter helped the Bucs have the single biggest offensive turnaround in team history.

The jobs that McAdoo and Koetter did with their respective offenses made them hot candidates to get head coaching jobs in 2016 with each being potential candidates in other cities. With the San Francisco 49ers being reportedly very interested in Koetter, and the Philadelphia Eagles thinking about stealing McAdoo away from their division rivals, the Bucs and Giants made the moves to promote their coordinators to head coach.

While each quarterback is very intelligent and more than capable of learning a new offense, the importance of Koetter and McAdoo to Winston and Manning cannot be overstated.

With Manning entering the twilight of his career, asking him to learn a new offense after two of his best seasons in the league would be more mind-boggling than convincing yourself that you’re better off without Tom Coughlin.

A season ago, the Giants quarterback had 30 touchdowns (just one fewer than his career high) in his first year in McAdoo’s offense, and this season Manning set a new career high with 35 touchdowns, despite the fact that the Giants offense suffered injuries across the offensive line throughout the season, and never got Victor Cruz back as expected. The New York offense was very inconsistent, and Manning struggled to find weapons in the passing attack, yet he put up some of the best numbers of his career.

The prospects of what New York’s offense could look like with a healthy offensive line and a legitimate No.2 receiver behind Odell Beckham Jr. gives New York fans hope that Manning could pull off one more Super Bowl run during his career, and for many, asking the Giants veteran to change offenses and start over again would have represented the closing of that possible championship window.

The 65 passing touchdowns the last two seasons are five more than any two-year span for the Giants 12-year veteran, but what’s perhaps even more important is the fact that Manning’s interceptions are way down in McAdoo’s precision passing attack.

The quick passing game the Giants have moved to the last two seasons has resulted in Manning throwing just 14 picks each of the last two years, or just one more than the 27 he threw the season before McAdoo got to town in 2013.

There still has to be the question of why this was necessary. With the Giants retaining Jerry Reese as their general manager and Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, there’s not a whole lot changes within the team’s power structure. The moves the Giants have made since asking Coughlin to walk away are basically a kin to saying asking Coughlin to move on is addition by subtraction. Sounds like a difficult argument to make, if you ask me.

The move to replace the head coach with the offensive coordinator was less questionable in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers didn’t have a Hall of Fame, two-time Super Bowl champion head coach, and as important as McAdoo is to Manning, the importance of keeping Koetter around for Winston is greater.

This league has seen its share of young quarterbacks ruined or set back by constantly changing offensive systems, and after selecting Winston with the first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the Buccaneers decided that Koetter was more important to the development of the team’s young quarterback than Lovie Smith was to the success of the team. In fact, it would be difficult to argue otherwise.

The idea of giving up on a coach with the track record of Smith (remember, he coached a team to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback) in just two years is almost unthinkable. I believe I personally guaranteed on my radio show in Tampa Bay that Smith would be given a longer leash than Greg Schiano got before him. It seemed to be almost a certainty that he would be granted more time to change the culture than Schiano had, especially considering how badly the former Rutgers head coach had screwed things up.

As unthinkable as the move to fire Smith after two seasons may have been, the organization clearly felt it needed to happen, and it did.

The Buccaneers haven’t had anyone that resembled a franchise quarterback in a long time, and this move is an investment in Jameis. Forget about the fact that Smith was a defensive-minded head coach whose defense was atrocious the last two years, or that some felt the former Chicago Bears head coach didn’t have enough fire. Make no mistake, this move was all about offensive continuity, and it was all about keeping Koetter around for Winston.

While many Bucs fans are disappointed the team has seemingly made another impatient move, they should take the time to understand that a year after deciding to make the decision that Winston would be the future of the franchise, the team made the decision that was best for their young quarterback’s future.

Tampa Bay’s ownership and general manager Jason Licht had to know this move would come with much criticism. The Glazer family had to know that hiring their third head coach in the last five years would raise some eyebrows, even if they didn’t know it would come with comparisons to the Cleveland Browns.

However, despite the loud and even over-the-top reaction from some of their fans and a handful of national media blowhards, what most of their critics are missing is that Licht and the Glazer family made the best move for their franchise by making the best move for their franchise quarterback.

While Tampa Bay doesn’t have a lot of experience with having a franchise quarterback under center, it’s clear they’re going to do whatever it takes to give their new leader what he needs to succeed, and as hasty as the move to replace Smith with Koetter seems, it’s evidence of the Bucs’ commitment to Winston.

For the Glazers, they’ll have to show Koetter more patience than any of the three previous coaches, and giving their new head man a five-year deal shows they understand that. If the team were to move on from Koetter within two or even three years, they’d confirm the accusations of impatience. If they allow their offensive coordinator turned head coach to continue to build on a good first season with his young franchise quarterback, it could turn into something special.

The goal for Tampa Bay is to one day look at Koetter and Winston the way we look at Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, or Drew Brees and Sean Payton. While it may be possible that we could have one day looked at Smith and Winston that way, anyone close to the team knows there’s a much better chance of that happening with the man who is running the offense; with the man they just hired.

It’s that hope for a special Buccaneers and for a special Jameis Winston that made this move not only the right move for Tampa Bay, but the necessary one.

While almost every team making a head coaching change is hoping for change and a new direction, the Giants and Buccaneers are hoping that continuity on the offensive side of the ball can help lead their teams into a prosperous future.

With the Buccaneers needing to show that they’re not a quick trigger franchise, and with McAdoo replacing a hall of fame head coach, the pressure will certainly be on in Tampa Bay and New York.


About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.