Bruce Arians is the latest coach entrusted to transform the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers to winners.
The 66-year-old came out of a one-year retirement Tuesday to fill the team’s fifth coaching vacancy in a decade. Former New York Jets coach Todd Bowles will join him as defensive coordinator, according to reports. The Jets, meanwhile, interviewed Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken for their head coaching job.
Arians replaces Dirk Koetter, who was dismissed Dec. 30 after leading the Buccaneers to 19 wins and no playoffs berths over the last three seasons.
Arians coached the Arizona Cardinals for five years, stepping down after the 2017 season with a 50-32-1 record that included one division title, two playoff berths, three seasons with double-digit wins and one NFC championship game appearance.
“Bruce Arians is one of the NFL’s most well-respected coaches over the past two decades,” Buccaneers owner and co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a statement.
The Buccaneers, who’ve finished last in the NFC South seven of the last eight seasons, haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 — the second-longest drought in the league. They haven’t won a postseason game since their 2002 Super Bowl run under Jon Gruden.
Arians was believed to be the front-runner all along because of his familiarity with general manager Jason Licht, who was vice president of player personnel for two seasons in Arizona before moving to Tampa Bay as GM in 2014.
The Buccaneers fired Koetter after consecutive 5-11 finishes that dropped his three-year record to 19-29. Despite setting franchise single-season records for points, total yards, passing yards and touchdown passes, Tampa Bay lost 11 of 14 following a surprising 2-0 start with upset victories over New Orleans and defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia.
During Koetter’s stay with the Buccaneers — first as offensive coordinator, then as a first-time NFL head coach who retained play-calling responsibilities for most of his tenure — Tampa Bay posted four of the five most productive offensive seasons in club history. The Buccaneers led the league in yards passing last season and amassed 500 yards of total offense five times, yet were just 1-4 in those games. Turnovers and a porous defense were the main culprits.
The day after Koetter was fired, Licht made it clear that whoever wound up replacing the coach would inherit Jameis Winston as his starting quarterback.
“Jameis Winston will be here,” the GM said of the No. 1 pick from the 2015 draft.
Winston sat out the first three games last season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and was benched twice after regaining the starting job because of inconsistent play. The 25-year-old has 75 career turnovers, including 58 interceptions. Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (76) is the only quarterback who’s turned it over more over the last four seasons.
But Winston, who’s 21-33 as a starter and led the team to only one winning season in four years, has not been a bust. He completed a career-best 64.6% of his passes for 2,992 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season and is Tampa Bay’s career touchdown pass leader with 88. He’s only 193 yards shy of replacing Vinny Testaverde (14,820 yards, 1987 to 1992) as the club’s passing leader.
The Buccaneers are counting on Arians to help Winston realize his potential. Among the quarterbacks he has worked with during are Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck.
Falcons bring back Koetter, Mularkey
Atlanta is bringing back two familiar faces, hiring Koetter as offensive coordinator and Mike Mularkey to coach tight ends.