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FAB 1. Exploring Life After Arians In Tampa Bay

“Look at this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team now that they have moral authority and accountability in the locker room. Their head coach even said it post-game, last year’s team never would have been able to make that comeback. There is a different presence to this team, and you can point to one guy, and that’s Tom Brady. He holds himself accountable. He creates an environment in the locker room – a culture in the locker room – where everyone holds each other accountable. That’s called moral authority in the locker room.

“There is another thing that Tom Brady does too that people don’t talk enough about. He is a king-maker. He made kings out of coaches in New England, and he’s going to do the same thing in Tampa where now Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles will be head coaches.” – Former Bucs QB and current NFL commentator Trent Dilfer on his LinkedIn page.

Dilfer is right. Brady has been a king-maker while winning six Super Bowls in New England.

Bill Belichick’s tree has spawned several NFL head coaches in Detroit’s Matt Patricia, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel, Miami’s Brian Flores, New York Giants’ Joe Judge, whom the Bucs will face on Monday night, in addition to Romeo Crennel, Houston’s interim head coach, who replaced another Brady-linked head coach Bill O’Brien, who was Brady’s former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Other notable former head coaches at either the NFL or college level include Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis and Josh McDaniels.

Now Dilfer believes that Leftwich, the Bucs offensive coordinator, and Bowles, Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator, are going to parlay their success playing with Brady into head coaching opportunities as early as 2021. Bowles spent four years as a head coach in New York with the Jets from 2015-18, going 10-6 in his first season before back-to-back 5-11 years and a 4-12 campaign that ended his time in the Big Apple.

Let’s face it. Head coach Bruce Arians has put together one hell of a staff, and the Bucs have several possible head-coaching candidates in Tampa Bay.

Arians is 68 years old and probably coaches only a few more years before retiring. Who would be the heir apparent if Arians won a Super Bowl with Tom Brady in 2020 and wanted to ride off into the sunset with a Lombardi Trophy?

It’s Bowles due to his longevity with Arians, dating back to their Temple days when Arians was the head coach and Bowles was the head-hunting safety. The fact that Bowles already has head-coaching experience gives him the edge over Leftwich – even this year if Arians were to contract COVID-19 during football season and would have to miss time while being quarantined.

Bucs HC Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich
Bucs HC Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“When we came back in July or late June, we put those protocols in place – who would take my place, who would take Todd’s place, who would take Byron’s place, who would take Keith [Armstrong’s] place,” Arians said. “We have enough young coaches now in the system that if the receivers coach gets sick, the assistant receivers coach takes over. We’re very fortunate to have that big of a staff and have guys I trust to do it.”

In a league that loves offense, Leftwich, a former NFL quarterback in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, will be an attractive head-coaching candidate sooner rather than later. The 40-year old is an Arians protégé with great charisma and likeability. With Tom Brady as his triggerman, Leftwich has exhibited some real growth as a play-caller this season, and has the Bucs’ third-ranked scoring offense clicking, averaging 31.7 points per game.

“It’s been fantastic,” Arians said of Leftwich’s development. “I thought he did a heck of a job with the offense last year – numbers wise. Bringing in Tom has been totally different. He and Tom have a great relationship. Byron’s done a heck of a job. I love his patience with the running game right now and setting up those chunk plays in the passing game. I think he’s done a heck of a job with our offense.”

It’s only a matter of time before Bowles gets another shot at a head-coaching job. The successful second go-arounds of Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Andy Reid are a good sign for Bowles.

The fact that Bowles is a super-qualified African-American candidate should get him numerous interviews this offseason due to the Rooney Rule provision that says that NFL teams must interview at least one minority candidate prior to hiring a head coach.

The team has been tight-lipped about who Arians’ successor would be if he were to retire, but the guess here is that it would have to be Bowles. It would be great if general manager Jason Licht could somehow put a franchise tag on Bowles to prevent him from leaving, but the league doesn’t allow franchise tags for coaches.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

If this 2020 season ends in a playoff run, my suggestion for Licht would be to go to the Glazers during the offseason and give Bowles a hefty raise and put some language in the new contract that declares him the head coach-in-waiting. That wouldn’t necessarily force Bowles to stick around Tampa Bay waiting for Arians to retire as he could leave for another head coaching job sooner per NFL rules, but the raise and that proclamation would incentivize him to stick around.

My suggestion for the Glazers would be to beat Licht to the punch and go down the hall to his office and suggest this idea and do something prior to the end of the season so Bowles won’t be tempted by other teams in the month of January after a slew of openings occur on Black Monday on January 4 – the day after the 2020 regular season ends. The Glazers understand the importance of a great defense more than most NFL owners as they kept defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his defensive staff under contract in 2002 after firing head coach Tony Dungy and the offensive coaches and special teams coordinator following the 2001 season.

The Glazers also made Kiffin the league’s highest-paid defensive coordinator for most of his tenure in Tampa Bay. And the Glazers also announced the induction of Kiffin into the Bucs Ring of Honor this year, although the ceremony will take place during the 2021 football season after the threat of COVID-19 hopefully passes.

With a defense that is already full of players that fit his system in Tampa Bay, Bowles should be tempted to stay as leaving to go rebuild another roster will take time, and he already found out that four years wasn’t long enough with the Jets. It’s taken Licht seven years to get the Bucs to this point and the Bucs haven’t even made the playoffs yet under his watch.

Arians isn’t too worried about his eventual successor in Tampa Bay. That pressure fall on Licht and the Glazers, as Arians has a loving wife in Christine to retire with in the Reynolds at Lake Oconee premier golf and lake community in Georgia.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich
Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

With a coaching staff full of able replacements – beginning with Bowles and Leftwich – the Bucs appear to be in good shape whenever Arians decides to call it a career. But what happens if Leftwich and Bowles both get offers elsewhere and Arians decides to coach again in 2021 – Super Bowl championship or not?

“We’ve got guys ready to take their place just in case that happens,” Arians said. “Hopefully we go all the way and they both get jobs.”

So what happens if the Bucs suddenly need a new offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator in 2021? Let’s examine those candidates in Fab 2.

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