After back-to-back 5-11 seasons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have fired head coach Dirk Koetter and charged general manager Jason Licht with the responsibility of finding his replacement in 2019. One candidate Licht will certainly consider is former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, whom Licht knows from his 2013 season working with Arians in Arizona.
Arians left coaching because of health concerns so there is a possibility he may continue to stay away from the field, instead choosing to work for CBS as an analyst and color commentator. Arians, an offensive-minded head coach who compiled a 49-30-1 record in six years with the Arizona Cardinals, is considered to be the immediate top candidate.
Arians told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that he would be open to talking to the Bucs about their head-coaching vacancy due to his relationship with Licht.
Arians, who beat Tampa Bay in 2016 and ’17, has spoken fondly of quarterback Jameis Winston in the past, telling ESPN: “He would be fun to coach, there’s no doubt about it. He’s a winner and a great leader and obviously a heck of a young quarterback.”
“‘Jaboo’ is legend in Birmingham,” said Arians, whose son lived about 20 minutes outside of Winston’s hometown of Bessemer. “We had a little football camp back then in Birmingham, and he threw one day. We had a bunch of local kids there and one of his high school coaches was a good friend of mine, so we’ve known him and watched him grow and we’re very, very proud of him.”
Winston is coming off a tumultuous season that began with a three-game suspension and included being benched for three games. The team picked up the fifth-year option worth $20.92 million and has said that he will return as the team’s starting quarterback in 2019. Winston completed 244-of-376 passes (64.6 percent) for 2,992 yards with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Arians has worked with notable quarterbacks, such as Peyton Manning (1998-2000) and Andrew Luck (2012) in two stops in Indianapolis, Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh (2007-11) and Carson Palmer in Arizona (2013-17).
Arians could reassemble his Cardinals staff in Tampa Bay as Todd Bowles, his former defensive coordinator, was fired as the head coach of the New York Jets on Monday. Arians had four winning seasons to start his run as Arizona’s head coach, including playoff berths in 2014 (11-5) and 2015 (13-3).
Harold Goodwin, who served as the Cardinals offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 2013-17, could serve in that same capacity in Tampa Bay. Licht interviewed Goodwin for the Bucs’ head coaching vacancy in 2016 to comply with the Rooney Rule before promoting Koetter to replace Lovie Smith.
Freddie Kitchens, who coached quarterbacks in Cleveland and replaced Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator this year, coached quarterbacks under Arians in Arizona, while Stump Mitchell was Arizona’s running backs coach from 2013-16 under Arians before following Bowles to New York in 2017.
Bucs defensive line coach Brentson Buckner also served under Arians on his staff in Arizona.
Buccaneers linebacker Kevin Minter, a former Arizona second-round pick in 2013, played for Arians for three years and loved him as a head coach.
“If he comes here, get ready,” Minter said. “He’s a great coach, man. If he does get the job – or whatever job he gets – he’ll kick the guys into gear.”
“If he comes here, he’s going to make noise. He knows how to win, but who’s to say what’s going to happen? I know he’s pretty comfortable in retirement right now.”
Minter said there is a lot to like about Arians as a head coach.
“For one, his honesty,” Minter said. “He was always honest. He’d tell you straight up how he felt about how you played – good or bad – but you kind of respect a guy who tells you exactly how he feels. And also, how much this game really means to him. You can tell he’s passionate. I’m talking about everything. He was all about the little things that amount to big things in the future. Any organization that gets him is going to be lucky.”
That organization may be Tampa Bay.