Will Bowles’s second stint as an NFL head coach go better than his time in New York?
The Bucs offseason melodrama took yet another shocking turn Wednesday night when Bruce Arians announced his retirement as head coach after 3 seasons.
In his place, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will ascend to take the reins as the team must adapt to a sudden change in overall leadership at an unusual time relative to the norm. It’s rumored that this has been the intended move for a while now as Arians shifts to a front office role, but it still stands to shift the long-term trajectory of a franchise currently at its apex.
Allow us to introduce to you…
HEAD COACH Todd Bowles pic.twitter.com/qwsvyr638w
— Tampa Bay Bucs (@Bucs) March 31, 2022
At its face value, this promotion makes plenty of sense.
Bowles is, by all accounts, an elite teacher and innovator on the defensive side of the ball who is loved by both his players and fellow coaches. The Bucs defense has finished top 10 in DVOA each season since he took over, and his masterful gameplan against the Kansas City Chiefs is largely to thank for the team’s dominant Super Bowl victory last year.
The 58-year-old will get a chance to rewrite his story as an NFL head coach in a much more stable environment than the one provided to him during his four-year stint with the New York Jets. After his first year went unexpectedly well with a 10-6 record in 2015, the roster fell into shambles. The following three seasons yielded 14 total wins and Bowles was relieved of his duties.
Bowles will reportedly work in tandem with linebackers coach Larry Foote and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers to keep the defense at a high-performing level, allowing offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and Tom Brady to do their thing on offense.
Theoretically, expectations should remain high for the club entering 2022. It’s a credit to Arians that he was so committed to setting up his long-time friend and peer with a favorable scenario, something all too uncommon in this business.
Bruce Arians really made a fascinating decision: Tom Brady comes back to the #Bucs, and he knows they’ll be good. Rather than have Todd Bowles take over a bad team or one in transition, he chooses now to pass it off. Arians made sure Bowles will coach a good team.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 31, 2022
Now, all of that said, here comes the bucket of cold water.
While 2022’s outlook remains freshly rosy, Bowles may be seriously tested a year from now with decisions that will exert major influence over the remainder of his tenure in the Bay. The team still has Jason Licht shepherding the roster maintenance and construction, which is wonderful news, but what will happen when the team’s offense must almost certainly engage in another makeover?
Leftwich would be the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach at this exact moment if it he hadn’t (rightly) refused to working with an incompetent general manager in Trent Baalke. He will gather more interest in open jobs next season, and it seems like a decent bet that he’ll be a top candidate if the Bucs continue their elite output of points and yardage. If he departs, it will then fall on Bowles to find a promising replacement.
This decision is paramount for any defensive-minded head coach in an offense-dominated league, but it’s especially true for Bowles given his spotty track record with the Jets. Though one might gather a lot of input from colleagues and coworkers, ultimately the head coach has final say over his staff. During Bowles’s Big Apple tenure, here’s the list of people who he tabbed to call the offensive plays:
- Chan Gailey (2 seasons)
- John Morton (1 season)
- Jeremy Bates (1 season)
That’s not a great list, folks.
If Leftwich leaves, Bowles needs to seek out and convince a much better alternative than his prior cohorts. If we get Jeremy Bates as new OC next year, it’ll be like watching a Lamborghini get stripped for parts on a live stream.
As pessimistic as that sounds, Bowles will have the advantage of offering up a far superior roster than anything those Jets teams ever sported. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, Leonard Fournette and most of the offensive line will still be here. Just a little better than Bilal Powell or Robby Anderson.
But that does lead into the next massive domino: Tom Brady.
After ending his 40-day retirement earlier in March, Brady’s future past this season with the Bucs is anyone’s best guess. If he still looks good and wants to continue playing at 46 years old, teams – including Tampa – are still going to want him.
If Tampa does lose Brady for good in 2023 and we’re all left with this year’s previously projected scenario of Kyle Trask vs. some mediocre veteran, that’s concerning. They’ll feed you all the pleasant spin that they can possibly muster, but the truth is that this roster is too good to rest on laurels with an unproven and/or unremarkable option at the most important position.
Bowles got derailed by this exact problem. The signal callers trotted out under his watch are as follows:
- Ryan Fitzpatrick (13-14 record)
- Josh McCown (5-11)
- Sam Darnold (4-9)
- Bryce Petty (1-6)
- Geno Smith (1-0)
If I’m Licht, I’m doing all that I can to avoid trapping my new head coach in quarterback purgatory again. In today’s NFL, you never know which top-tier passer will become available for the picking. Kyler Murray could force his way out of Arizona, Lamar Jackson might elect to decline a contract extension with Baltimore, or Derek Carr might choose free agency over Las Vegas.
The front office might fall in love with a rookie QB and push all their chips to the middle of the table for him. The moral of the story boils down to a simple adage that has proven effective for Tampa during the last 3 or 4 years: “If you’re gonna swing, swing big.”
Of course, there’s an entire year for Trask to prove he could be the guy in one way or another. Skeptical pundits like me could easily be left with egg on our face, and that would be amazing. It’s nothing personal against him, it’s just playing the odds.
This is all hypothetical, really. It’s conjecture, it’s just code floating in cyberspace. But it’s also based on some degree of substance.
Bowles was largely not successful in New York. He struggled to implement an effective offensive staff and, by proxy, did not field a sustainable quarterback. These are facts.
He also dealt with cheap ownership and a dysfunctional front office, and he was forced to establish a winning culture from the ground up. These are facts as well, and it’s likely these variables will not play nearly as significant a role this time in Tampa.
We’ll soon find out what the future holds and if he’s learned from past mistaks, but for now let’s be happy for Bowles and congratulate him on earning another opportunity to lead a franchise. Unlike other recent examples (i.e. Adam Gase or Mike McCarthy), this was a second chance truly deserved.
History indicates there is some risk involved, but that’s fitting for a successor to Bruce Arians.
No risk it, no biscuit.