In a surprising manner, Todd Bowles is getting a second chance.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Wednesday night that Bowles, the team’s successful defensive coordinator, has replaced head coach Bruce Arians, who unexpectedly stepped down and moved into a front-office role with the organization. Given a new five-year contract to lead the Buccaneers, Bowles moves out front again. Additionally, during a horrible time for inclusive hiring in coaching, the NFL has another Black on-field leader.
Beginning in 2015, Bowles served as the New York Jets’ head coach for four seasons. While superbly guiding the Buccaneers’ defense the past three seasons and helping the team win Super Bowl LV, Bowles proved he was worthy of another opportunity to run his own shop.
After Bowles did not receive a job offer during the 2021-22 hiring cycle, Arians expressed frustration with the lack of movement for qualified assistants of color overall. The fact that Bowles and Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who’s also Black, didn’t move up after the team’s numerous accomplishments the past two seasons underscored that “something’s wrong” with the system, Arians said.
It took Arians to step aside for Bowles to move up.
Although Arians, 69, has overcome health problems during his career, his health was not a factor in his decision to change his job duties within the organization, he said. Rather, the two-time Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year was ready for a change, he said, and he had been developing a succession plan for weeks.
Bowles, 58, was at the top of Arians’ list. Apparently, the Glazer family, which owns the franchise, and general manager Jason Licht agreed with Arians’ assessment of Bowles, whose promotion provides continuity on the coaching staff.
“I am appreciative of the [Glazer] family and Jason Licht for having faith in me to take on this role, and to coach Arians for his support and guidance over the past four decades,” Bowles said in a statement. “Tampa has become home for my family, and we are excited to remain part of this community for years to come.
“As an organization, we have all the pieces in place to continue the winning standard that has been established here in recent years. I am eager to get started with our players, coaching staff, and front office in preparation for the 2022 season.”
Bowles joins Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Lovie Smith of the Houston Texans as the league’s only Black head coaches. The NFL has 32 teams.
Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins, whose father is Black, is biracial. Ron Rivera of the Washington Commanders and Robert Saleh of the Jets are the league’s other minority head coaches.
According to Rod Graves of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the Buccaneers chose wisely.
“Todd Bowles has long been recognized as one of the NFL’s top coaches,” Graves, the leader of the group that advises the NFL on matters of diversity and inclusion, wrote in a text message to Andscape.
“His performance as a defensive coordinator has been exemplary. It was the right move that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wasted no time in making Bowles their selection to replace Bruce Arians as head coach.”
During a 2019 interview with Andscape, Arians left no doubt about how much he respects both his future successor and Leftwich, his protégé on offense. Arians, who believes in giving qualified people opportunities and then getting out of their way, lamented that it was big news that three Black men directed the Buccaneers in the three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams.
“It really shouldn’t be, but it is,” Arians said. “When I see a qualified person not getting an opportunity, I want to give ’em one. … I hope more and more [head coaches] do because of [what I have done], and then we can stop talking about it. It’s just like with the women [coaches]. Hopefully, pretty soon, it won’t be news.”
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, also weighed in on Wednesday’s major coaching news.
“We want to congratulate coach Bowles for earning a well-deserved second opportunity as a head coach. Coach Arians has been a giant ally and champion of inclusion throughout his half-century of coaching,” Vincent wrote in a text message to Andscape. “This succession plan is a model of growing and developing from within, leading to a natural progression of the football meritocracy.
“Given coach Arians’ philosophy on diversity in both word and deed, a level playing field afforded an inherent opportunity for coach Bowles to transition with a strong foundation for success.”
During the offseason, Bowles, who formerly served under Arians on the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff, interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears, but was not chosen to fill their head-coaching vacancies. Now, instead of remaining as one of the top lieutenants to Arians, who will be the Buccaneers’ senior football consultant, Bowles will set the team’s course. He’ll also have a stage to show how much he has learned since his previous stint as a head coach.
After his rough tenure with the Jets (for Jets head coaches, is there another kind?), Bowles had to reclimb the ladder. Many Black coaches never complete the trek. Just ask former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell about that.
It’s all about wins and losses in the NFL, and Bowles went 24-40 with only one winning season (10-6 during the 2015-16 season) and no playoff appearances. On the other hand, you try winning Super Bowls with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown and Sam Darnold as a team’s primary starters at quarterback over a four-season stretch. Good luck with that.
The fact is, when Bowles was with the Jets, he didn’t have the type of partner he needed at the game’s most important position. At least in his first year as the Buccaneers’ head coach, Bowles is looking good there.
Tom Brady cut short his retirement recently to return to Tampa Bay, which couldn’t have worked out better for Bowles as he steps into the club’s top coaching role. Granted, Brady will be 45 in August, but the most successful signal-caller in NFL history is still a superstar.
Last season, Brady led the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns. The future Hall of Famer finished second in Total QBR and seventh in passer rating. And even after raising the Vince Lombardi Trophy in victory a record seven times, Brady is still second to none in wanting to win the game’s biggest prize.
Besides leaning on Brady, Bowles will also rely heavily on Leftwich. Arians believes Leftwich is ready to take the next step, too, and Leftwich’s counsel will be invaluable to Bowles as he navigates the season.
Bowles’ leadership ability will serve him best. A top-notch X’s and O’s man, Bowles is foremost a teacher, and he expects more from himself than he does from others. He’s genuine, which players recognize and value most.
Of course, winning the NFL is difficult, and injuries often ruin the best-laid plans.
Bowles and the Buccaneers will face challenges next season. Count on it. That’s just how this works.
Here’s the thing, though: In choosing Arians’ successor, the Buccaneers picked a sharp coach who’s capable of making the right moves during good times or bad. In the NFL, the number of head coaches on that list isn’t as long as one would think.
His climb complete, Bowles has reached the top rung. And now that he’s there with a talented team, he’ll have the support to show what he can do.