The last time football fans witnessed Todd Bowles as a head coach, it wasn’t pretty. Bowles, a native of New Jersey, struggled to guide the perennially bumbling Jets out of mediocrity, despite a 10-6 record in his first year with the team. After compiling a disappointing 24-40 mark over four seasons in New York, he was fired in 2019.
For most coordinators across the NFL, a high-profile tenure ending in failure would be enough to prevent a second head coaching stint. In a league that has disproportionally limited opportunities for Black coaches, it’s even more difficult; just eight Black men in league history have ever been given the chance to lead more than one franchise on a non-interim basis.
Perhaps that’s what made last week’s announcement so refreshing. Bruce Arians, one of the most respected minds in football, decided that now, at 69 years old, was the perfect time for him to retire as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his place, Arians named Bowles, the team’s defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, as his successor.
While the lucrative five-year deal Bowles signed was certainly a nice reward for directing one of the NFL’s best defenses, this is an even bigger win for the Bucs. Between Arians and Tom Brady, Tampa Bay had the oldest head coach and starting quarterback pairing in the league. Although Arians could have easily stayed to try and win one more ring with Tom, handing the reins over to the younger Bowles will allow for a more natural transition into a post-Brady future. Sure, Arians could have given the job to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwitch, a fantastic young coach in his own right, but going with a more experienced leader, who hasn’t benefitted from working with the GOAT on offense, is the more prudent move.
Bowles is someone who is highly respected across the league, and he’s had an immediate impact transforming Tampa’s defense from pushovers into bullies. Over the past two years, the Bucs have wielded a top-ten unit in terms of points allowed per game. Even more impressive has been their ability to terrify opposing offenses, with three straight years in the top ten for team sacks. Just look at the quarterbacks Bowles has humbled with Tampa Bay; the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes have looked downright terrible at times when facing the Bucs and their relentless 4-3 scheme.
In the NFL, no hire is a true “slam-dunk.’” Trying to win games once Brady (presumably) retires following the 2022 season will be easier said than done, and finding the right quarterback will be crucial. However, the foundation that Arians and general manager Jason Licht have established won’t simply disappear with the departure of any individual. This is a smart, opportunistic organization that can win in a variety of different ways. Embracing a defense-first identity is something most teams shy away from today, but not Bowles and the Bucs, which is a good thing. In a world filled with copycat imitators, banking on potential over a proven talent can be a fatal mistake. Unlike with New York, Bowles is ready to do things his way. If that’s anything like the work he’s done with Tampa’s defense, then Bucs fans should feel ecstatic about their new head coach.