If you’re like me, you sat there and watched the introductory press conference of the Buccaneers new head coach Bruce Arians with tears of pure joy in your eyes. Every single thing that he said was exactly what Bucs fans have been wanting and needing to hear for years. More accountability for players. More aggressive defenses. More blitzing. More delegation of responsibility. More trust between coaching staff. More “swag”. It’s all music to any Bucs fan’s ears. Bruce Arians not only represents a new era in Tampa Bay Buccaneers football, but he also brings a new culture with him. The kind of culture that Bucs fans have been screaming for
(formerly Dirk Koetter)
BRUCE ARIANS has officially been named as the 12th head coach in the 42 years of Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. He brings 40 years of college and NFL coaching experience with him from when he started as the wide receivers and running backs coach at Mississippi State in 1978 all the way to 2017 when he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. He’s a two-time NFL “Coach of the Year” (2012 & 2014) as well as a two-time Super Bowl champion (XL & XLIII) with the Steelers. He had a 21-39 record in the NCAA and a 50-32-1 NFL record as a head coach.
One of his many jobs over those 40 years was with Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama where he says he learned a lot. One of the biggest things that
Jameis Winston has to be one of the most, if not the most excited player on this team right now. Arians
Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck
Arians philosophy, both in coaching and in life, is “No risk it, no biscuit!”. He tried to explain what that meant by saying “I like to go for every Par 5 in two”. Sure he hits a bunch of balls into the water, but he’s also made a few eagles along the way. The GOAT Michael Jordan had a similar philosophy throughout his basketball career saying “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”. If you read between the lines, then you can already see that this Buccaneers passing offense that was already one of the best in the league, might be even more potent and explosive under Arians. Bucs fans should be excited about that possibility.
Something else that should have Bucs fans looking forward to the 2019 season is the change in culture of this team with Arians. When he tells his players “If it ain’t perfect, it ain’t right!”, he means it. He expects perfection. He expects his players to strive for perfection every day in practice. In his press conference on Thursday, he made the statement that “If you don’t play hard, then you won’t play here and you won’t be a Buc!”. There are some players on this current Buccaneers team that should be worried. There are some players on this current team that need to get their shit together or they may not be on this team much longer. It’s called ACCOUNTABILITY. And it’s been badly needed for a very long time in this organization. Now with Arians here, it looks as though we may finally get some. He says he has an “accountability sheet” for practices where he keeps track of every penalty and mental error that occurs each day. He adds “If you’re on it too much, you’re either too dumb to play here or you just don’t give a shit!”. That should get some guys attention.
Arians is a firm believer in developing both players AND coaches. He feels like it’s his responsibility as a head coach to get the next generation of up and coming coaches ready to take over the headset. He accomplishes that by delegating responsibilities and trusting his staff to do their jobs. As for player development, he says you can’t see what a player is capable of if he doesn’t get the reps in practice. In Arizona, he used to have two separate practices going on at the same time. One for the starters and other key contributors and another for the younger players. The reason for this is to get the younger guys just as many reps as everyone else on the team. It makes a lot of sense and should really benefit players like Ronald Jones, Justin Watson and Alex Cappa who got limited reps in practice during their rookie year. He’ll be implementing this practice method here in Tampa as well.
To help with this whole transition, Bruce has brought with him an extremely experienced staff. It’s a staff made up of guys that have played for and/or coached with Arians in the past and that he trusts completely. In fact, he trusts this staff so much that he is giving up his offensive playcalling duties for the first time as a head coach. That responsibility will go to the Bucs new Offensive Coordinator and former Buccaneers quarterback Byron Leftwich.(
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/PASSING GAME COORDINATOR
(formerly Todd Monken)
BYRON LEFTWICH joins the Buccaneers staff after being let go from the Cardinals where he served as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. He does have ties to Tampa as he was briefly the quarterback for Raheem Morris in the 2009 season. Leftwich has been given the honor of being the first staff member to call plays for a Bruce Arians coached team other than BA himself. During his press conference on Thursday, Arians was asked about the playcalling situation and who would be doing it. His response was that he’s always said he wouldn’t hand over that responsibility until he found someone who could do the job. Apparently that someone is Leftwich, who Arians says is a “rising star in this league as a coach”. In 2018, the Cardinals offense finished dead last in the league averaging just 242 yards and 14 points per game. However, you have to remember that they had a terrible o-line blocking for David Johnson who finished with just 940 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground and a rookie QB in Josh Rosen. And that wasn’t Arians offense. Leftwich should have much more success calling plays in Arians system with Jameis Winston at quarterback and all of those offensive weapons at his disposal.
He may have the easiest job of anyone on this new coaching staff taking over one of the top passing offenses in the league. The Bucs finished 3rd in total offense behind the Chiefs and Rams averaging 415 yards and 25 points per game. The Buccaneers offense didn’t have a problem moving the football up and down the field. It was scoring points that was the issue. Even though they were 3rd in yards per game, there were 11 other teams that averaged more points per game. Arians and Leftwich should be able to help in that department. BA has always been an aggressive playcaller on offense and he has groomed Leftwich to be the same way.
(formerly Mike Smith/ Mark Duffner)
In college, TODD BOWLES played safety at Temple when Arians was the head coach there. After starting his coaching career in the college ranks as a defensive coordinator for Morehouse College and then Grambling State, he spent 2000 to 2012 as a secondary coach for the Jets, Browns, Cowboys, Dolphins and Eagles before joining Arians staff in Arizona as the defensive coordinator. He took that Cardinals defense from 27th to 9th in the league in one year. His defense played so well that it earned him the head coaching gig with the Jets in 2015 where he spent the last four seasons. He started off his head coaching career with a 10-win season just barely missing out on the playoffs. However, in the last 3 seasons the Jets have gone 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12 which is how he got fired from there and now hired in Tampa.
He takes over a defense that was one of the worst statistically in NFL history under Mike
There’s going to be a drastic difference between his system and what Bucs fans are used to seeing from this team. The days of the soft, off coverage, four-man rushing, bend but don’t break Mike Smith defense are done. In the past, the Bucs have been a pretty straight forward, 4-3 base, cover-2 type defense. I mean it’s called the “Tampa 2” for a reason. Bowles defenses are completely different. They are physical, in your face, press man coverage with frequently well disguised blitzes from different looks and fronts. In fact, Bowles defenses blitz a bunch. From 2015-18, the Jets blitzed on 37% of their defensive snaps producing 125 QB hits and 27 interceptions. That was the second highest percentage in the league. With the Cardinals from 2013-14, his defense blitzed on 46% of their snaps (highest in the league) resulting in 92 QB hits and 17 interceptions. The Bucs defense from 2016-18 blitzed on just 23% of their snaps so this will be a big change for them.
Unlike Smith who wanted his players to conform to his scheme, Bowles does the exact opposite and designs his scheme to fit his players strengths. He also changes his schemes to matchup with their opponent each week. One time when the Cardinals were playing the Cowboys in 2014, he changed the defense from their normal 3-4 to a 4-3 because he thought it was better schematically. They won 28-17 and held DeMarco Murray to just 74 total yards. It’s aggressive. It’s versatile. It’s physical. And it’s just the kind of defense that Bucs fans have been yearning for since the days of Brooks, Sapp and Lynch.
RUN GAME COORDINATOR/ASSISTANT HEAD COACH
Like almost everyone else on this staff, HAROLD GOODWIN also has extensive ties with Bruce Arians. They began working together in 2007 when he was the offensive line coach and Arians was the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He followed Arians to Indianapolis and then to Arizona where he continued as the o-line coach. Now in Tampa, he will “assist” with coaching the o-line but his primary job will be as the run game coordinator and assistant head coach. The run game coordinator is directly involved in both the o-line and running back groups on the team. Goodwin has a ton of experience and says that coaching the offensive line is his passion. He feels like the o-line is the “backbone” of any football team saying “Without a good o-line you can’t pass the ball. And without a good o-line you can’t run the ball”. He also said that he thinks that “Players are a reflection of their coach” adding that “If they look bad, then I look bad”.
Goodwin was actually brought in and interviewed for the head coaching job by Jason Licht back in 2016 when Dirk Koetter was promoted. He takes over a run game that finished 29th in the league with 1,523 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry and 95 yards per game.
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH
(formerly George Warhop)
JOE GILBERT has been handed what might be the worst situation on this Buccaneers team. He’s taking over what Pro Football Outsiders ranked as the worst o-line in football for 2018. They finished the year averaging just 98.6 rushing yards per game which was bad enough for 6th worst in the league. They also allowed Jameis and Fitz to be sacked a combined 41 times. Gilbert and Goodwin have a tough job ahead. The only stable positions on that line are at left guard with Ali Marpet and in the middle with the highest paid center in the league Ryan Jensen. The Bucs have a tough decision to make about left tackle Donovan Smith. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Smith allowed the fourth most QB pressures in the league in 2018 and he was way too inconsistent for the Bucs to offer him a franchise left tackle kind of contract. Demar Dotson will be 34 in October and had an up and down season coming off of knee surgery last year. Even with the question marks at both tackle positions, right guard might be the biggest issue on that line. Caleb Benenoch “won” the starting job in training camp, but shared snaps all season with veteran Evan Smith and rookie Alex Cappa. Meanwhile, Benenoch graded out as the worst guard in football by PFF. The Bucs will either have to make upgrades in these spots or hope that Gilbert and Goodwin can work some real magic with a group that struggled heavily under George Warhop for the last few years.
(formerly Mike Bajakian)
CLYDE CHRISTENSEN is now entering his second stint with the Buccaneers. He was the tight ends coach and quarterbacks coach for Tony Dungy from 1996-2000 before becoming the offensive coordinator for the 2001 season. He adds almost 40 years of college and NFL coaching experience to this veteran staff going back to 1980 when he was the QB/WR coach at East Tennessee State. He may have the easiest gig of anyone on staff as he’ll have not only the “Quarterback Whisperer” himself Bruce Arians to help with Jameis Winston, but he’ll have Byron Leftwich as well. The three of them should be able to take Jameis to the next level of being an elite QB in this league. To do that, he’ll have to cut down on the turnovers. In 2018, Jameis and Fitz combined for 26 interceptions (Winston-14, Fitzpatrick-12).
RUNNING BACKS COACH
(formerly Tim Spencer)
TODD MCNAIR is an interesting addition to this staff. His connection comes from when he played running back for Arians at Temple. After he left Temple, he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989 where he played until 1993. He then played for the Houston Oilers from 1994-95 before playing one last season with the Chiefs. After retiring from football in 1996, he joined the Cleveland Browns as their running backs coach from 2001 to 2003. He left Cleveland for sunnier skies at USC where he was the RB coach from 2004 to 2009. Unlike almost all of the other staff members, McNair has very little coaching experience. In fact, he hasn’t coached since USC didn’t renew his contract in 2009 after being there as the running backs coach for 5 seasons. Arians tried to bring him on as the running backs coach with the Cardinals in 2013, but for some reason he decided not to take the job. Obviously, BA is impressed enough by him to bring him to Tampa despite his lack of experience.
His group is one that will need to be addressed this offseason. Peyton Barber is coming off of a decent season where he finished with 871 yards and 5 touchdowns averaging 3.7 yards per carry despite never getting more than 19 carries in a game. Jacquizz Rodgers is now a free agent and likely won’t be returning. And rookie Ronald Jones had a disappointing season as a second round pick totaling just 44 yards and 1 touchdown. The player considered to be a “homerun threat” coming out of college averaged 1.9 yards per carry and had a longest run of 9 yards. I don’t think the Bucs have a choice but to look into free agency or the draft to solidify this position. Maybe adding Kareem Hunt is something this team should consider? After all, Jason Licht and Bruce Arians are both big on giving players a “second chance”.
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH
(formerly Skyler Fulton)
KEVIN GARVER comes in replacing one of the few position coaches that I thought did a pretty solid job in 2018. Despite coaching Mike Evans to a franchise single-season record for receiving yards (1,524) and having five players with 500+ yards receiving, Fulton is out and Garver is in.
Garver spent the last 6 seasons with the Cardinals (2013-16 under Arians) changing roles from offensive assistant/quality control coach to assistant wide receivers coach to wide receivers coach. Arizona tried to block him from taking job offers, but eventually let him out of his contract to leave for Tampa.
If DeSean Jackson doesn’t return, then he should have an easy job with this talented stable of receivers. It would help if the Bucs can figure out how to re-sign Adam Humphries and find another less diva-like deep threat in free agency like John Brown who played for Arians with the Cardinals.
TIGHT ENDS COACH
(formerly Ben Steele)
RICK CHRISTOPHEL is yet another transplant from Arians Cardinals coaching staff. He was the tight end coach there from 2013-17, but didn’t coach anywhere last year. Prior to that, he spent 37 years coaching in college from 1975 through 2012. He replaces Ben Steele who had been doing a pretty good job developing players like Cam Brate, OJ Howard and Antony Auclair. However, BA apparently has enough faith in Christophel to hand this position group over to him so we’ll see what happens.
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH
(formerly Brentson Buckner)
KACY RODGERS is an interesting hire. He was Todd Bowles defensive coordinator with the Jets and has no other ties to Arians other than Bowles. But that’s not necessarily the intriguing part. What surprised me is that he’s replacing Brentson Buckner who does have direct ties to Arians from their days in Arizona. Buckner did a pretty good job taking over a d-line who only had 22 sacks last year and helped them improve that number to 38 sacks in 2018. The rumor is that Bowles and Buckner don’t exactly see eye to eye on some things, so that may explain why Rodgers was the choice and why Buckner is now the d-line coach in Oakland.
Prior to his stint in New York, Rodgers spent from 1994 to 2002 as a d-line coach in college football. He made the jump to the NFL in 2003 where he was the d-line coach for the Cowboys until 2007 before joining the Dolphins from 2008-14 in the same role.
He won’t have it as easy as Buckner did this season. This d-line may be getting a face lift this offseason. Who knows what will happen with Gerald McCoy and his $13 million salary for 2019. Vinny Curry’s $8 million price tag may be a little rich for a guy who lost his starting position to Carl Nassib so who knows if he’ll return. The same can be said for Beau Allen who lost his starting job to rookie Vita Vea while making $5 million this season. Mitch Unrein is probably not returning either. He’s due $3.75 million in 2019 and never played a snap this season due to a concussion. There’s also question marks surrounding guys like Will Gholston and Noah Spence, but those two fit Bowles system really well. With the defense making a transition to more of a hybrid 3-4 look, it’s hard to say what might happen over the next few months. Whatever does happen, Rodgers seems to have the knowledge and experience to make it work.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH
(formerly Mark Duffner)
LARRY FOOTE is connected to Arians from both Pittsburgh and Arizona. He played for the Steelers while Arians was coaching there and also played one year under him with the Cardinals in 2014. BA then hired him as their LB coach where he’s been for the last four seasons.
This should be one clue that the Buccaneers, who have traditionally run a 4-3 defense for most of the franchise’s history, will be making a transition into more of a 3-4 look. This team usually has one LB coach. However on Arians staff, there is an outside LB coach AND an inside LB coach. Foote will be coaching the OLB’s meaning the pass rushing linebackers in their 3-4 front.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH
(formerly Mark Duffner)
MIKE CALDWELL played linebacker in the NFL for 10 years before becoming a coach for the Eagles in 2008. He was there until 2013 when he joined Arians Cardinals staff for one season. He then went to work for Todd Bowles with the Jets and then followed him to Tampa.
He’ll be working with the inside linebackers in this new defense. Who those ILB’s will be is still up in the air. Kwon Alexander’s contract is up and he’ll be a free agent this offseason. Lavonte David could play inside or outside even though some say he lacks the size to do so. Kendell Beckwith never played in 2018 and even though the team says his injury isn’t “career threatening“, I’m not so convinced. It was clearly bad enough to sideline him for an entire season, so until I see him back on the field at 100% I’ll continue to be skeptical. It will be interesting to see what changing to a 3-4 defense does to this roster, especially at the linebacker positions.
(formerly Jon Hoke)
KEVIN ROSS played cornerback and safety in the NFL from 1984-97 and was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Kansas City Chiefs. He began coaching defensive backs in 2004 with the Vikings before doing stints with the Chargers and Raiders. He joined Arians staff with the Cardinals in 2013 as their cornerbacks coach. Now he’s in Tampa with the same title and will be working with a young, talented group including second year players Carlton Davis and MJ White, Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith. This room is losing it’s most experienced veteran in Brent Grimes so don’t be surprised if they add another crafty vet in free agency. A trade with the Cardinals for Patrick Peterson may not even be out of the question so stay tuned.
DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH
(formerly Brett Maxie)
NICK RAPONE is yet another coach who adds a ton of experience to this staff. With more than 30 years of coaching in the college ranks, he joined Bruce Arians in Arizona in 2013 as the secondary coach. He helped the Cardinals defense that ranked 6th in the league produce 30 takeaways, including 20 interceptions which was the 5th most in the league.
Rapone is also inheriting a young, talented duo of safeties in Justin Evans and Jordan Whitehead. However, behind those two is nothing but question marks. Chris Conte is a free agent and probably not returning. Isaiah Johnson was very inconsistent in 2018. Andrew Adams played well at safety and corner after being picked up off the waivers by the Bucs this season, but he’s also a free agent. Look for the Bucs to bring in some help with this group during free agency. They have to bring in some veteran leadership to balance out with the youth in this group. Tyrann Matheau makes a lot of sense here if you ask me. He has a strong history with Bruce Arians and he’s now a free agent after spending 2018 with the Texans. Former Giant Landon Collins is another name to watch out for. He was on Jason Licht’s radar last offseason, but New York was asking too much in trade. Either way, Rapone will have some talent to work with on the back end of this defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR
(formerly Nate Kazcor)
KEITH ARMSTRONG is a coach with another strong connection with Arians. He played for him at Temple and then became his graduate assistant in 1987. He spent 1988 to 1993 in various coaching positions for Miami, Akron, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame. In 1994, he made the leap into NFL coaching with the Falcons as their safeties coach. In 1997, he joined the Bears as their special teams coach before moving to Miami to coach the Dolphins special teams in 2001. He comes to Tampa after spending the last 10 years (2008-18) with the Atlanta Falcons coaching special teams.
During his introductory press conference, Armstrong said that the Bucs will an aggressive, attacking kickoff/return group. He also said that they will be more of a directional punting team. That has to be music to Bryan Anger’s ears since that used to be his bread and butter before Dirk Koetter and Nate Kaczor tried to change his punting style. Armstrong is one of the best special teams coaches in the league, which explains why he’s had interests from multiple teams for head coaching vacancies over the last few years. He should be able to turn around a special teams unit that has been mediocre at best under the last regime.
(formerly Carlos Polk)
CHRIS BONIOL might be the only coach on this staff without any direct ties to Arians. He spent 5 years as an NFL kicker with the Cowboys, Eagles and Bears from 1994 to 1999. He started coaching special teams in 2010 with the Cowboys and then the Raiders in 2014. He’s spent the last 3 years coaching special teams in college before getting the phone call to come join BA in Tampa. As the specialist coach for the Buccaneers, he will be working with their longsnapper, punter and kicker which could all be new additions to the Bucs 2019 roster. Kicker Cairo Santos is a free agent. Longsnapper Garrison Sanborn is 33 years old and now a free agent. And punter Bryan Anger is under contract until 2022 but is due to make $3 million in 2019 which may prove to be too much for this cap strapped Bucs team. Whatever happens, look for Boniol to have a big influence on this unit.
In case you didn’t already see the pattern here, Bruce Arians likes the concept of loyalty. He’s loyal to his staff and his staff is loyal to him. They love to coach for him. His players are the same way. They love to play for him and would run through brick walls for the man. I haven’t been this excited about a Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching hire since Jon Gruden came to town. Arians immediately brings legitimacy back to this franchise. Arians should be able to bring the best out of franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. And Arians might just be the man that leads the Bucs back to the promise land.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!