Bucs interview former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, the frontrunner to replace Dirk Koetter

The former Cardinals head coach has known Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston for years and worked with GM Jason Licht at Arizona.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians makes a call against the Buccaneers during the first half of their game on Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. [Associated Press]
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians makes a call against the Buccaneers during the first half of their game on Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. [Associated Press]
Published Jan. 5, 2019|Updated Jan. 6, 2019

TAMPA — Bruce Arians could fix quarterback Jameis Winston and would love to work with general manager Jason Licht.

For those reasons, the former Cardinals head coach has been the favorite to fill the Bucs' vacancy and took a big step in that direction Saturday when he came into town and interviewed for the position.

Arians, 66, is the only known former NFL head coach to meet with the Bucs since they fired Dirk Koetter last Sunday after three seasons.

Licht interviewed Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Wednesday and Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on Friday. The Bucs are scheduled to meet with Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard today.

But none of those candidates have been head coaches, nor do they check as many boxes for the Bucs as Arians.

Start with the fact that Arians has known Winston since the Bucs quarterback attended his football camp in Birmingham, Ala., as a kid.

Also, Licht and Arians worked together at Arizona when Licht was the Cardinals' vice president of player personnel.

And most important, Arians is a bit of a quarterback whisperer. He has worked with quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.

Two of Winston's worst defeats came against the Cardinals under Arians. In 2016, the Bucs lost at Arizona 40-7 as Winston went 27-of-52 for 243 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.

Two years ago, the Bucs fell at Arizona 38-33. Winston went only 5-of-10 for 61 yards, but he left the game in the second quarter after injuring his right shoulder.

Arians retired as Cardinals coach after the 2017 season, finishing 49-30-1 in his five-year run that included a pair of playoff appearances. He worked as a broadcaster this season.

He had said recently that the only job he would consider was the Browns, but he amended that to say he would be open to talk to Licht about the Bucs position.

There is speculation that Arians, a two-time Associated Press coach of the year, would bring former Jets coach Todd Bowles as his defensive coordinator.

The Bucs also would likely retain defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, who is under contract for another year and worked with Arians in Arizona.

The Bucs will not owe the Cardinals compensation if they hire Arians. While he retired in 2018, the Cardinals chose not to exercise the club option on Arians' contract for 2019.

The Cowboys hosted the Seahawks in an NFC wild-card game late Saturday, and Richard has three interviews scheduled for today.

But it sure feels like this thing is wrapping up quickly and Arians is and always has been the frontrunner.