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What should we make of Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht?

TAMPA – So what do we make of Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht?

That’s what this Bucs season has suddenly turned into, a referendum on the head coach and general manager.

Will they survive to keep their jobs beyond this year? Should they survive to keep their jobs beyond this year? How are they doing?

And I have to tell you that the answer is: I simply don’t know.

Does anyone?

That’s not usually what you expect to hear in this day and age of sports debate. You expect to hear strong opinions, hot takes and no-holds-barred commentary.

Fire this guy. Hire that guy. Trade that bum. Bench that waste of space.

But when it comes to Koetter and Licht, you just don’t know what to think.

First, Koetter. I think the man is a pretty good coach. Like many NFL coaches, he’s wound a little too tight and seems a little too thin-skinned. But the football part? The part that truly matters? The guy knows his stuff.

The NFL is all about offense these days, and Koetter knows offense. This is by far the best offense the Bucs have ever had. They’re chewing up yards and piling up points though they have an average line, not much of a running game and, most notably, two quarterbacks taking turns playing hot potato with the starting job.

Think about that: The Bucs have the best offense they have ever had, and they are doing it at quarterback with a journeyman and a first overall draft pick who is flirting with being labeled a bust.

How are they doing it? Because Koetter knows offense. He knows how to use one of the best receiving crews in football. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken is calling the plays, but this is Koetter’s offense, and he must be given credit for the gaudy numbers the Bucs are putting up.

In seven of their eight games, the Bucs have scored at least 27 points. That kind of number should mean lots of victories. And the Bucs would have more wins if the defense wasn’t so lousy.

Clearly, however, offense is not the Bucs’ problem.

But the bottom line is this team is 17-23 with Koetter as head coach. That’s not a good record. And not-good records are usually what get people fired. Plus, though Koetter is an offensive guy, he still is in charge of the whole thing, which does include defense.

Meantime, there’s Licht. He’s the guy buying the groceries. He’s picking the players.

He has made plenty of good draft picks: Mike Evans, Ali Marpet, Kwon Alexander, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin, to name a few.

He has made plenty of picks we’re not 100 percent sold on: Donovan Smith, Vernon Hargreaves, Justin Evans, Vita Vea and, most of all, Jameis Winston.

And he has made a few costly misses, none more costly than botching second-round picks on kicker Roberto Aguayo and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. (And maybe running back Ronald Jones.)

His free-agent signings also have been hit (Jason Pierre-Paul, Brent Grimes, Adam Humphries) and miss (Chris Baker, Anthony Collins, Michael Johnson).

Then again, it all comes back to record. That’s how we judge people in this business, right?

And I consider Licht’s record 23-33, though it’s really 25-47. But it seems unfair to count his first season as GM, when he was 2-14, because he inherited a mess with no quarterback. But neither record is any good.

So you can see why it’s hard to judge the job Koetter and Licht have done. Some of it has been good. Some of it has been bad. And this season is still very much up in the air.

The Bucs enter Sunday’s game against Washington 3-5, but this game and their next two (at the Giants, home versus the 49ers) are all winnable. They could be in the playoff hunt at 6-5 when the Panthers visit Raymond James Stadium on Dec. 2.

How we feel about them now at 3-5 might be totally different in a month if they are 6-5. Or, for that matter, 3-8.

Here’s what it’s going to come down to: How will this team finish, and what will be the projections for next season?

Win games, make the playoffs and everyone is back.

Lose games, miss the playoffs and everyone’s probably fired.

Then there’s the Jameis factor. I feel for Koetter, and to some extent Licht, because their careers hinge on someone who makes bad decisions on and off the field.

If Winston comes back, that might actually help Koetter and Licht keep their jobs. If Winston leaves, the Bucs will start over with a new quarterback and probably a new coach and GM.

There’s half a season to figure all this out. Which is good, because the first half didn’t answer anything.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.

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