The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are zeroing in on former Arizona head coach Bruce Arians as the replacement for Dirk Koetter, who went 5-11 in each of the last two years and was fired after three seasons on December 30. Here is what we know as of Monday afternoon.
General manager Jason Licht has interviewed four candidates for the vacant Bucs head coaching job, including Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Minnesota defensive coordinator George Edwards, Dallas defensive backs coach Kris Richard and Arians, whom Licht worked with during the 2013 season in Arizona. There are not expected to be any more interviews, and negotiations are expected to begin between Licht and Arians in the near future – likely Monday evening or Tuesday.
An announcement that Arians will be the next head coach of the Bucs could happen as early as Tuesday afternoon, but it all depends on how negotiations go and Wednesday might seem more likely.
Arians would be an ideal fit in Tampa Bay because he could work with Jameis Winston in a make-or-break fifth-year option season for the 25-year old quarterback. Arians has had success developing Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Ben Roethlisberger in Arizona and for squeezing the remaining production out of Carson Palmer in Arizona. With Arians, a two-time NFL Coach of the Year, the Bucs would also be getting a winner, as he went 9-3 as Indianapolis’ interim head coach in 2012, and posted three winning seasons and two playoff appearances in his five years in Arizona (2013-17).
Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images
Arians is believed to be putting together a staff that could include former New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator. Bowles was Arians’ defensive coordinator in Arizona from 2013-14 before taking the Jets’ head coaching job in 2015.
The fact that Bowles has head coaching experience would be appealing to Tampa Bay because Arians is 66 years old and retired from the Cardinals due to health concerns and wanting to spend more time with his family, and the Bucs might want a succession plan in place in case he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his entire contract, which would likely be a four-year contract with a fifth-year club option. That’s the standard Tampa Bay head-coaching contract.
If Bowles comes, the Bucs defense would likely switch to a 3-4 blitz-heavy scheme, which would fit last year’s first-round pick Vita Vea perfectly as he played nose tackle and defensive end in Washington’s 3-4 defense in college. Defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib would likely play outside rush linebackers with linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander playing inside in a 3-4 scheme.
If Bowles were named the defensive coordinator that doesn’t necessarily mean that current defensive line coach Brentson Buckner would remain in Tampa Bay despite Buckner coaching under Arians in the same capacity from 2013-17 – although Buckner is under contract for 2019. The reason is that Kacy Rodgers, who was Bowles’ defensive coordinator in New York, could serve as the Bucs defensive line coach instead. That’s something to watch, as Bowles and Rodgers are very close from their days together on Dallas’ staff from 2005-07 when Bowles was the secondary coach and Rodgers coached the defensive line.
Former Cardinals OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin – Photo by: Getty Images
Harold Goodwin, who served as Arians’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in Arizona from 2013-17, interviewed for the Bucs’ head coaching vacancy in 2016 prior to Licht promoting Koetter to head coach to replace Lovie Smith. The interviewing of Goodwin, an African-American, satisfied the team’s Rooney Rule requirement that year, but he is well thought of by both Licht and Arians. Goodwin coached with Arians in Pittsburgh for several years, and then followed him to Indianapolis in 2012 and then on to Arizona the next year. He would be viewed as an upgrade over current offensive line coach George Warhop.
While Arians would probably love to have Freddie Kitchens on his staff again as quarterbacks coach, as he was in Arizona, Cleveland won’t let Kitchens out of his contract where he is currently the offensive coordinator for a Browns team that has yet to hire a head coach. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Arians and the Bucs make a run at Arizona quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich, who was a part-time starter in Tampa Bay in 2009, while playing under Arians in Pittsburgh in 2008 and from 2010-11.
By the end of the year Leftwich was calling plays for the Cardinals and is well thought of around the league. Arizona fired head coach Steve Wilks after just one year, so it is unclear if Leftwich will stay in Arizona or be free to interview elsewhere.
Stump Mitchell coached running backs under Arians in Arizona from 2013-16 before joining Bowles’ staff in New York for 2017-18. He would be a candidate to replace Bucs running backs coach Tim Spencer. If Mitchell wasn’t the pick, look for former USC running backs coach Todd McNair to surface as a potential candidate for the job. Like Bowles, McNair played football for Arians at Temple University back in the 1980s.
Those are just some of the names generating some buzz as potential future assistants in Tampa Bay under Arians, but first things first – Licht and Arians need to agree to terms before a hiring announcement can be made by the Bucs.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org