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Scuttlebutt of Dirk Koetter for Jon Gruden swap persists

The Saints, Falcons and Panthers are in a tight battle for the NFC South title and all of the teams bring plenty of postseason experience to the table.

One week from today, the coaching carousel will go from dormant to high speed. And one of the various vacancies (there could be anywhere from eight to 10 total) could arise in Tampa, where a termination of Dirk Koetter would continue the team’s recent two-and-out trend.

The current thinking is that G.M. Jason Licht will remain in place, but that coach Dirk Koetter will be replaced, potentially by former Bucs coach Jon Gruden.

It remains unclear whether Gruden wants to return to coaching. Indeed, it’s unclear what he wants at all. Though he initiated the chatter in 2017 by speaking openly about returning at a time when many had assumed that he’d joined Bill Cowher as guys who won’t ever be coming back, there has been no clarity regarding whether Gruden is looking to return to the Bucs, to join some other team, or to parlay interest in his coaching services into a better deal with ESPN. (Or, given Bristol’s current financial difficulties, a deal not as bad as what ESPN may want him to take.)

Whatever the Buccaneers do, the sense is that they already know what it will be. Ownership has a habit of making a move to dump a coach only when they know the name of the replacement. And so, for Koetter, the question becomes whether he returns for a third season if Gruden ultimately decides not to return to coaching.

He returned to the Bucs on Monday night, donning his visor and saying all the right things about ownership as the franchise placed him in the Ring of Honor. Few get to go to work in a place where their names already have been immortalized; that dynamic could make ownership somewhat less inclined to continue to shove a revolving door that spins after ever few full-season cycles.

Since making Gruden a surprise firing after the 2008 season, the Bucs have hired, and fired, Raheem Morris (three years), Greg Schiano (two), and Lovie Smith (two). Koetter got the job in 2016, at a time when it’s believed the Buccaneers feared that another team would hire him to be a head coach elsewhere.

The two years under Koetter have been average at best. A late-season run in 2016 helped boost expectations to an arguably unrealistic level in 2017. Now, with the Bucs possibly being the only team in the NFC South not to make the playoffs, the Glazer family may be ready to bring back the last coach who took them to the postseason.