Playing Jameis Winston matchmaker is best approach for Bucs coaching search

Tampa Bay needs to find the perfect match for Jameis Winston. Only true gurus need apply.
With his return in 2019 expected, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) will be playing for his third head coach following the firing Sunday of Dirk Koetter. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
With his return in 2019 expected, Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) will be playing for his third head coach following the firing Sunday of Dirk Koetter. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published December 31 2018
Updated December 31 2018

TAMPA — It's time to play matchmaker. The perfect coach for the imperfect quarterback.

That's what this is all about, right? Finding the coach who can reinvent Jameis Winston.

Dirk Koetter gave it his best shot and there were times when it seemed like he was on the verge of a breakthrough. But in the end, Winston was still more promise than delivery.

It ended up costing Koetter his job.

And it sets the stage for what comes next. The Glazer family seems prepared to double down on the bet they made when Winston was chosen No. 1 in the 2015 NFL Draft. Their newly hired search firm will advertise for a head coach, but what they are looking for is a guru.

The kind of coach known for grooming young quarterback talent. The kind of coach who understands how to build an offense around a passer's particular talents.

Officially, this process should be open to all applicants.

Unofficially, we know that's nonsense.

This is no run-of-the-mill pairing. The Bucs may be picking near the top of the draft, but they are closer to the playoffs than most 5-11 teams. So while everyone else is dreaming about the next Sean McVay or Matt Nagy, it's logical to assume the Bucs are thinking about the next Pete Carroll.

With those parameters in mind, let's consider our matchmaking contestants.

Contestant No. 1: Bruce Arians

It's true, he's a bit old. Okay, a lot of old. Arians is 66, and retired from his last job as a head coach with the Cardinals in 2017. But he's contemplating a return, and told the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport he would be willing to talk to the Bucs about their job.

Frankly, I'm not sure the Bucs could find a better-matched candidate. His resume as a head coach is impressive on its own. In the years before (5-11) and after (3-13) his arrival, Arizona was a mess. Yet for five seasons with Arians in charge, the Cardinals went 49-30-1 with two playoff appearances.

But that's not even the most intriguing part.

As a quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator or head coach, Arians was in charge of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer across 14 different seasons. All four QBs went to the Pro Bowl under his tutelage, and combined for nine playoff appearances.

Still not convinced? Bucs general manager Jason Licht already has a relationship with Arians, having worked together in Arizona in 2013. And, oh yes, Arians' former defensive coordinator in Arizona was Todd Bowles, who is now available after being fired as the Jets head coach.

Contestant No. 2: Mike McCarthy

The Bucs have hired 11 head coaches in franchise history. Not one of them had previously won a Super Bowl as a head coach. Mr. McCarthy has.

He went 125-77-2 with nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl victory in the 2010 season during his 13-year stint in Green Bay. He groomed Aaron Rodgers as Brett Favre's replacement with the Packers, and also worked with Alex Smith when McCarthy was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco.

Firing Dirk Koetter so quickly on Sunday night might have had something to do with McCarthy's availability. There were already reports that Cleveland and Arizona are eager to hire him so the Bucs will have to move fast if they're interested.

Contestant No. 3: Jim Harbaugh

A no-doubt, major headlines, grand slam of a catch. But is he available?

There are whispers Harbaugh might consider leaving after four seasons as the head coach at Michigan, but he can afford to be choosy. And the Bucs may not be attractive enough for him.

By announcing Sunday night that Licht would be leading the search for a new coach, the Glazer family seemed to indicate he will be staying on as the GM. Hard to imagine that would appeal to Harbaugh, who would likely be able to demand total control over any franchise.

For the record, Harbaugh has been a success on the college level at Michigan (38-14) and Stanford (29-21), as well as his four years in the NFL with San Francisco (44-19-1).

And his quarterback pedigree is undisputed. When he was Oakland's quarterbacks coach in 2002, Rich Gannon was the league MVP and the Raiders went to the Super Bowl. He was Luck's head coach at Stanford and he reached the Super Bowl with 25-year-old Colin Kaepernick's at quarterback in San Francisco.

Contestant No. 4: John Harbaugh

Won a Super Bowl himself in Baltimore with Joe Flacco at quarterback, and turned this season around by turning to rookie QB Lamar Jackson. Would require a major trade to pry him loose from Baltimore.

While the Glazers were willing to do that in 2002 for Jon Gruden, they were desperate after firing Tony Dungy following a playoff season and having Bill Parcells renege on an agreement. They're not that desperate this time around. At least not yet.

John Romano can be contacted at [email protected] and @romano_tbtimes.

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