SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of reporting and analysis on the Bucs from yours truly, Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds. Here are four things that caught my attention this week, plus some random tidbits in my Buc Shots section at the end. Enjoy!
FAB 1. Bowles Will Be “Chill” But “Aggressive” As Bucs Head Coach
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For the first time since 2019, I walked into the AdventHealth Training Center on Thursday for Todd Bowles’ press conference as the new Bucs head coach. COVID-19 has kept the media out of the team’s facility for the past two years.
I love the Bowles hire, by the way. I’ve been a big fan of his aggressive approach and the way he coaches the defense.
But I really wanted to find out who the Bucs were getting as their next head coach. In some ways, Bowles is man of mystery in pewter and red.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
When the media has gotten to interview Bowles during his weekly press conferences in-season, which typically last no more than 10 minutes – and oftentimes on Zoom – we’ve seen a stoic, matter-of-fact and routinely bland defensive coordinator at the podium.
I remember talking to several Bucs players about Bowles in the open locker room media sessions during the 2019 season and they would tell me how funny and sarcastic Bowles would be in team meetings. And how much they love and respect the guy.
We’ve all seen that love and respect on the field in the form of his players producing the league’s top-ranked run defense. And we’ve seen the blitz-heavy Bucs being near the top of the NFL in sacks under Bowles.
But Bowles’ humor and the sarcasm – where was that?
Bowles finally showed everyone that side of him on Thursday as he was announced as Bruce Arians’ successor. After Jason Licht paid tribute to Arians, calling him the “coolest head coach” in the league, Bowles talked about his own relationship with the Bucs general manager.
And how he wasn’t quite as cool.
“I may not be the coolest guy he’ll ever meet, but I’m pretty damn chill myself (laughs),” Bowles said with a big smile. “But I’ll take that. Bruce will always be the coolest. I’ll go over to the chill category and try to start something there.”
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was in attendance for Bowles’ introductory press conference. When talking about having Brady for another year in Tampa Bay, which will aid Bowles’ as a first-year head coach tremendously, he again turned to some deadpan humor and sarcasm.
“It’s always great to have him under center,” Bowles said. “Finally I get to play with him instead of against him without him beating my head in. We’ll have some spirited practices. We had a great conversation. I think the world of the guy. I think we’re more alike than he could ever know. Even though it doesn’t look like it on the surface.
Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“He’s probably a little more chill than I am. So I’ll probably have to find a new thing other than that, because Bruce took “cool” and Tom took “chill.” I have to find my niche in this whole thing without being a jerk about it.”
Now we see what the Bucs players have seen. Bowles is certainly charismatic in his own unique way.
He’s kind of like Mike Evans, a 6-foot-5, long-legged receiver who doesn’t look like he’s running fast – until he blows by you. Evans’ speed sneaks up on you. Just ask Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who got smoked by Evans for a 55-yard touchdown in last year’s playoff game.
Bowles’ humor sneaks up on you like that, too.
Licht, who has known Bowles since the two worked together in Arizona in 2013, was asked what he was surprised to learn about him over the years.
“He’s got a little bit of a quiet demeanor at times, but just how big of a shit-talker he is,” Licht said. “And how fun he can be, and he is in a good, productive way. He’s a phenomenal person and I could go on and on about what a great coach he is. And he’s very aware and he’s probably one of the smartest people across all occupations that I’ve ever met.”
Chill, smart, funny, shit-talker – I like it.
But more importantly, his players love it.
They love Bowles.
“He puts his players in the right position to win, believes in them and believes in their abilities,” said Bucs cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. “He doesn’t go off script and he sticks to it and sticks with you through thick and thin. I love playing for Coach Bowles.”
Pro Bowl nose tackle Vita Vea agrees.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I love Todd Bowles,” Vea said. “He’s a great guy and a great coach. A lot of our success is through him. We get all the limelight, but he’s really the man with the plan. He sees everybody and knows all of our talents.”
Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett has flourished under Bowles, earning two Pro Bowl berths in three years and leading the league in sacks in 2019.
“Coach Bowles – he knows what he’s doing,” Barrett said. “He’s most definitely a defensive guru and I appreciate him. He is always getting us on the same page – the right page – telling us what needs to be fixed and fixing it. He’s a great defensive mind.”
Bucs safety Mike Edwards echoes that sentiment.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Edwards said. “He’s just a mastermind.”
As a defensive-minded guy myself, I love the fact that Tampa Bay will have another defensive-minded head coach leading the way.
Of course the last one who had success was Tony Dungy, and that was decades ago back in 1996-2001. The last three defensive head coaches – Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith – all flopped in Tampa Bay.
It will be different with Bowles. He has already had success with the Bucs, helping the team win Super Bowl LV with a brilliant game plan. Tampa Bay held Kansas City’s explosive offense out of the end zone in a 31-9 triumph at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs fan base and organization has always valued good defense, and Bowles became the league’s highest-paid defensive coordinator after the Super Bowl. As much as the NFL has become a points-driven, offensive league, there is still great value in defense. Somebody has to stop those high-powered offenses from scoring.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles – Photo by: USA Today
Tampa Bay – and Arians – bucked the trend of going with the young, offensive-minded head coaching hire. It could have easily been offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich instead.
But Bowles is the right choice – the best choice. He’ll help carry the flag for defensive-minded head coaches in the NFL, which I like.
“I think there is this thing going around that defensive coaches can’t be head coaches because you don’t see them,” Bowles said. “And I think it’s quite the contrary. Obviously, [Bill] Belichick is an outstanding head coach and we have a few in this league that are very good head coaches. You look back at the Super Bowls with Dungy and Belichick and [Mike] Tomlin and [Bill] Parcells – you can go back years and years and find success with defensive coaches winning Super Bowls and being very good coaches.
“It’s a phase in the NFL and people get caught up in the moment. There are good football coaches on both sides of the ball. And I think we need to make that a little more fair and a little more even. The only way you can do that is to try and stop people. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Arians and the Bucs picked Bowles to continue the winning culture that was started here in 2019 and led to a Super Bowl win the following season. There will be some subtle changes under Bowles, but the mindset of the Bucs’ program won’t change.
“I think it will be aggressive,” Arians said of the Bucs under Bowles’ leadership. “It will be very aggressive.”
FAB 2. The Changes Bowles Will Make With The Bucs
There will be some subtle changes with Todd Bowles at the helm in Tampa Bay. He’ll still be calling the defensive plays, although he’ll have two co-defensive coordinators. Defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers will handle the blitzes. Inside linebackers coach Larry Foote will handle the coverages.
“When I’m on the offensive side of the ball at practice we go through phases of run periods and pass periods,” Bowles said. “Sometimes they are at the same time. Kacy excels in the front seven and Larry excels in the back seven. When I’m over there, to be co-DCs, they’ll be handling the same situations, but one is in the run game and one is in the pass game, so I know I have it covered over there.
“I think our DB coaches do an outstanding job. Coach [Nick] Rapone taught me everything I knew, and Coach [Kevin] Ross I played with. Having that dynamic with both guys over there that I trust – along with the two DB coaches – I think it helps a great deal in practice when I’m on the other side of the ball. I’m going to install in the spring, because we have new things even they don’t know about yet. And I’ll call it on game day. But I think from the day-to-day operations and understanding the players and going into training camp, they’ll be in front of the room a lot more.”
Bowles’ message will be delivered in a different way than Arians. There might be less cussing and more sarcasm.
“It’s like every other coach, You coach hard, you understand players and you try to put them in the best position to play football. When I say my way, the delivery may come out different. It may be the same thing that Bruce is saying. He may use a bunch of profanity. I may use some sarcasm – or vice versa.
“He may be, ‘Get your ass over here.’ And I’m like, ‘Your legs are over here, where’s your ass at?’ (laughs) It’s just semantics we’re talking here. I’m not trying to change the program, but you’ve got to be yourself. If you try to imitate somebody else it doesn’t go well. My way works for me, and it works on defense. The offensive guys will get to know me and we’ll go from there.”
Arians was an offensive-minded head coach and would collaborate with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and quarterback Tom Brady. When it came to the defensive side of the ball, he was hands-off and let Bowles run the show.
Tampa Bay’s new head coach will stray from that approach and said he expects to have some input in the Bucs offense.
“It’s early on that, but I’m the head coach – I get to do whatever I want,” Bowles laughed. “I’m not going to go in there and call plays. I understand that. And I don’t intend to or act like I’m going to. I’ll have input in how defenses are trying to attack them. I’ll have input on certain situations going into the half or two-minute, or third-and-1s. Or going for it or not going for it and those types of things. That’s my job. I have the freedom to do that. At the same time, I understand and respect Byron and Tom a great deal.”
Defensive-minded coaches look at plays from a completely different perspective. When offensive coordinators draw up plays they are designed to either get first downs or touchdowns. Defensive coordinators see plays differently.
Back when I was a defensive coordinator in Pop Warner football I told my head coach and offensive coordinator not to waste their time e-mailing me any new offensive plays unless they wanted me to show them how I would stop it. That’s just how defensive minds work.
Bruce Arians and head coach Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
That’s the value Bowles can bring in an offensive meeting room with Leftwich and Brady. He can show them any potential weaknesses in protection from a defensive standpoint, or where routes need to be adjusted to avoid trouble in coverage and pick up additional yardage.
Other than that, there won’t be too much different with Bowles’ approach, nor does there have to be. The Bucs return a ton of talent, including Brady, from a team that went 13-4 last year and won the NFC South for the first time since 2007.
“Schematically, not much change,” Arians said. “There will be different messages. I think a lot of times there needs to be new messages and he delivers it in such a great way.”
Bowles won’t try to be Arians. That’s impossible. There’s only one B.A.
But being Todd Bowles will be good enough. He learned a lot from his first coaching stint with the Jets. And he’s learned a lot over the last three years with Arians in Tampa Bay.
Bowles is ready to lead the Buccaneers.
“The one thing I do know how to do is coach football players,” Bowles said. “Regardless of whether you are an All-Pro or whether you are a rookie, all your players want to do is be coached and help them get better. I can help people get better. I’m going to use that approach through my way of understanding our team better and make them better players moving forward. We’ll do a couple of different things. There are a lot of different ways to win in this league. Everybody has a different way and there are some successful coaches doing it.
“I have to understand what I learned and not try to be Bruce, and not try to be Parcells and not try to be Joe Gibbs. Understand what I learned from them, put my spin on it and move forward that way. I think if I put on a Kangol hat, grew my goatee, you guys would look at me like I’m crazy. ‘Look at this clown, he’s mini-Bruce.’ I can’t do that. I’m not going to do that. And I’m not going to try. I’m not defending myself. I just know that you have to be you in this league.”
FAB 3. The Good News And The Bad News For Bowles
The last time Todd Bowles was a head coach he inherited a 4-12 Jets team in 2015 and guided New York to a 10-6 record. With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, the Jets were a game away from the playoffs. That was as good as it got for Bowles, who went 24-40 in four years with Gang Green.
After a pair of 5-11 seasons, Bowles was fired after the Jets went 4-12 in 2018. He reunited with Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay as the Bucs defensive coordinator the next year.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles – Photo by: USA Today
What did Bowles in with the Jets? The same thing that is the demise for plenty of other first-time head coaches: a lack of talent.
That won’t be the case in Tampa Bay, and that’s the good news for Bowles. With three years in red and pewter with players he helped acquire, a system he’s already implemented and had success with, and a coaching staff he knows and trusts that is already assembled, Bowles is essentially three years ahead of where he was as the Jets head coach in 2015 from the first minute he’s the head coach of the Buccaneers.
Oh, and Bowles has Tom Brady back for another year.
“Good players make good coaches, so you always want to have good players,” Bowles said. “I’m not going to apologize for inheriting a talented team. I’ve had less success with teams. So I’ll never apologize for that. Never in a lifetime.”
Bucs general manager Jason Licht believes Bowles will be much better with this second opportunity after the lessons he learned in New York.
“A lot of times the record of the head coach can be misrepresented by what he had and the people that he had around him and the players and all those things,” Licht said. “It’s a very tough market there, obviously, to work in. A lot of head coaches that go on to get second opportunities have a lot of success because of the things that they’ve learned.”
Marv Levy, Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Mike Shanahan are just some of the coaches that started off with losing records during their first stint as NFL head coaches, only to make it to multiple Super Bowls with their second opportunities.
Bowles inherits a Bucs team that won a Super Bowl in 2020 and won a franchise-record 13 games in the 2021 regular season. Tampa Bay returns six Pro Bowlers, including three on defense in inside linebacker Devin White, nose tackle Vita Vea and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr.
It’s a situation so ideal that it caused Arians to suddenly step down in late March and give Bowles the best chance for success with the continuity on the roster and the coaching staff.
“It should be huge,” Arians said. “This is a very good football team. He knows it and everybody knows each other. He’ll have his tweaks to the routines and they’ll be excellent. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and owner Malcom Glazer – Photo by: USA Today
Jon Gruden inherited a Super Bowl-ready defense, fixed the Bucs offense and went 12-4 in his first year. The Bucs won their first Super Bowl in Gruden’s first season in Tampa Bay in 2002.
Other Bucs head coaches were far less fortunate in their first season. Raheem Morris went 3-13 in 2009. Greg Schiano posted a 7-9 record in 2012. Lovie Smith had an atrociously embarrassing 2-14 record in 2014. Dirk Koetter went 9-7 in 2016, but failed to make the playoffs.
Even Arians went 7-9 as a first-year coach in Tampa Bay. Gruden is the only Bucs head coach to make the playoffs in his first season with the team.
Bowles could be next.
In fact, Bowles should be next.
That’s where the good news probably ends.
The bad news is that the Bucs won 13 games last year because of Brady. When Brady leaves, which very well could be after this season, the Bucs might still be very good. But they’re not going to be great without a great quarterback.
Yet a very good Bowles-led Bucs team could still win the division in 2023 and make the playoffs.
General manager Jason Licht and his staff have done a great job of stockpiling talent on both sides of the ball. But whoever replaces Brady will ultimately determine how far the Bucs go. This has become a passing league. Quarterbacks rule in the NFL.
The bad news for the Bucs might very well be the level of success Bowles achieves this season. As Gruden found out, winning the Super Bowl in his first season only buys so much job security. His honeymoon was over quickly when the Bucs went 7-9 in 2003 and he was at odds with both general manager Rich McKay and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
After being on the hot seat after an injury-riddled 5-11 season in 2004, Gruden rebounded the next year and won the NFC South, going 11-5. But he was fired three years later after a tenure that lasted six seasons.
Bucs GM Jason Licht, co-owners Darcie Glazer Kassewitz and Joel Glazer, head coach Todd Bowles and senior football consultant Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
There’s a strong chance that the upcoming 2022 season is going to be as good as it’s going to be for Bowles in Tampa Bay. Whether the Bucs win 11, 12, 13 or 14 games, and whether they just make the playoffs or go to the Super Bowl, surpassing what the Bucs do this year without Brady will be challenging.
Of course Licht and Bowles will be up for the challenge. I don’t doubt they won’t.
The Glazers have a track record of a quick trigger finger when it comes to coaching hires. Morris got three years. Schiano and Smith got two. Koetter got three.
But the Glazers have shown plenty of patience with Licht, who is now on to his fourth head coach. And that patience was rewarded with Arians’ arrival in 2019, and Brady and a Super Bowl victory the next year. They’ll give Bowles plenty of time, especially if he starts strong out of the gate, as expected.
But just like a new recording artist who has a huge, No. 1 hit at the top of the charts with their first single, following up that success can be a burden. Especially when the second single or the second album is good (or bad), but not great.
Remember, Tony Dungy got fired after a 9-7 season in 2001 and making the playoffs for a third straight season. Gruden also got fired after going 9-7 in 2008 and winning three division titles in six seasons.
I’m certainly not trying to end Bowles’ head coaching career before it starts, or dampen any enthusiasm. It’s just going to be interesting to see how Bowles navigates Year 2 as a head coach in Tampa Bay. Year 2 in New York was where things began to unravel for him.
But first we need to get through Bowles’ first year. And it should be an exciting one.
FAB 4. Bowles Is Accountable For Bad Call vs. Rams – “I Blew It”
It’s crazy to think that Todd Bowles’ bad call – an all-out blitz against Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford in Tampa Bay’s 30-27 playoff loss to Los Angeles – actually led to him the Bucs head coaching job. But that’s exactly what happened.
If Bowles had not called that ill-timed blitz against the best QB in the league against pressure, the Bucs might have stopped the Rams and won in overtime. Tampa Bay had beaten Buffalo in overtime, 33-27, weeks earlier.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today
Instead, the Bucs’ blitz didn’t get there in time, as the players weren’t lined up properly at the Rams’ hurried snap of the ball. With defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh bearing down on him, Stafford launched a 44-yard pass to All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp to set up the game-winning field goal for the Rams. Weeks later, Los Angeles would go on to host – and win – Super Bowl LVI.
Had the Bucs beaten the Rams there is a good chance that they would have beaten the 49ers the next week in the NFC Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. A win over San Francisco would have put Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl where the Bucs likely would have beaten the Bengals, too.
Back-to-back Super Bowl victories would have probably led to Bruce Arians’ retirement, and perhaps Tom Brady’s too. It might have led to offensive coordinator Bryon Leftwich getting a head-coaching job, and perhaps more offers for Bowles, too.
Even if that road led to Bowles being named as Arians’ successor in Tampa Bay anyway, part of the Bucs staff likely would have received offers to go elsewhere after back-to-back Super Bowls. Bowles wouldn’t have had this staff intact, as it is now, and might be without Brady.
For the first time since that infamous play happen, Bowles was asked about it shortly after being named as the new Bucs head coach on Thursday.
“We blew it,” Bowles said. “Anytime a play goes wrong, it’s the coaching staff and the players. If you call it right and they execute it right, it’s a great play. If they execute it wrong, it’s a bad play. You should’ve changed the call when you execute it wrong. You should’ve changed the call when you called it wrong. When you call it right…it’s one play. We had plays in the first half that I thought were far more important of losing that game than the last play. You’re trying to win the game. You try to sit back there and let Stafford have all that time in the world in crunch time – are you trying to win or are you trying to see if he can get in field goal range and go?
Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Sean [Murphy-Bunting] had just fell down the play before and Cooper caught the big gain and the pressure didn’t get there. We were trying to win. I will never apologize for trying to win. If I did call zone and (Stafford) got the play off, you’ll say I should’ve blitzed. ‘We blitz all the time, how come we didn’t blitz?’ That’s part of football, that’s coaching. You have to learn to make peace and live with that.”
Bowles was completely accountable for that costly call against the Rams. As painful as that play was for fans and Tampa Bay players to endure, no one agonized more or feels worse about that call than Bowles himself.
“Do you forget it? Never in life,” Bowles said. “I can remember a lot of plays – bad plays as a player and as a coach. I can remember the touchdown passes I gave up when I played for Washington. There were three, and I remember all three of them.
“This play will be another one of those things, but that cannot stop you from being you. You go back to the drawing board and see how you can get better as a coach, and how you can teach it better for the players. And you move on. That’s the only way you can have growth. I can’t come in the first day and say, ‘You blew this play from last year!’ That’s unrealistic. We were trying to win, just like everybody wanted us to win. It didn’t happen.”
Bowles and the Bucs will try to get revenge against the Rams as Tampa Bay will host Los Angeles again for a third straight year at Ray-Jay in 2022.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• NO WONDER BOWLES STRUGGLED IN NEW YORK: Todd Bowles went 24-40 as the head coach of the New York Jets from 2015-18. And there was a big reason why – poor quarterback play. Bowles started five different QBs in four seasons, which is never the recipe for success for any coach in the NFL.
Todd Bowles as head coach in New York:
13-14 with Ryan Fitzpatrick 5-11 with Josh McCown 4-9 with Sam Darnold 1-6 with Bryce Petty 1-0 with Geno Smith
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Chiefs SS Tyrann Mathieu – Photo by: USA Today
• BOWLES AND MATHIEU ARE RELATED: In case you didn’t know, Bucs head coach Todd Bowles is the father-in-law of free agent safety Tyrann Mathieu. Bowles coached him in Arizona in 2013-14 and played against Mathieu in Super Bowl LV when he played for Kansas City. Mathieu married Bowles’ step-daughter.
Bowles was asked about the possibility of recruiting Mathieu to Tampa Bay to help at safety, as the Bucs lost Jordan Whitehead in free agency.
“Come on, guys,” Bowles laughed. “We can’t afford [Ndamukong] Suh yet, how are we going to afford Tyrann?”
• WIN OR LOSE, THE BUCS BOOZED: Former Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is known for loving a good Crown Royal cocktail. One of his famous coaching mottos is “win or lose – we booze!” Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht paid homage to Arians, who was more than just a head coach and a drinking buddy. Licht told me that Arians is his best friend.
• BUCS COACHING CHANGE COVERAGE ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week. Pewter Report Podcasts typically air on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm EST in the offseason.
Jon Ledyard, JC Allen and Kasey Hudson all discussed how the NFC is shaping up this offseason during Monday’s show.
On Tuesday, Scott Reynolds and Matt Matera came back from the NFL Annual Meeting to discuss Jason Licht’s press conference.
Ledyard and Reynolds discussed the Bucs Briefing column where Ledyard ranked the receivers in this year’s draft class.
Ledyard, Reynolds, Allen and Matera all analyzed Bruce Arians stepping down and Todd Bowles taking over the Bucs.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. We archive all Pewter Report Podcasts. So you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work. Or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• BOWLES REVEALS HOW HE FOUND OUT HE GOT THE JOB: New Bucs head coach Todd Bowles shared the hilarious story of how Bruce Arians broke the news to him that he would step down and that Bowles would take over. The man had floor seats to the Hornets and the Nuggets!
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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