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Bucs owners wanted Bruce Arians to call the plays

But the 66-year-old coach convinced the Glazers that Byron Leftwich was ready for Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator job
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians may be whispering to Jameis Winston, left, but Byron Leftwich will be calling the plays. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians may be whispering to Jameis Winston, left, but Byron Leftwich will be calling the plays. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Jul. 31, 2019

TAMPA — You wouldn’t pay good money for a ticket to a Bruce Springsteen concert if you knew he wasn’t going to sing. You’re not inviting Wolfgang Puck to your kitchen if he isn’t going to cook. So it stands to reason that as the Bucs prepared to coax a 66-year-old offensive genius out of retirement to be their head coach, the family that owns the team expected Bruce Arians to at least call the plays.

“When you hire Bruce Arians, you’re hiring him because, darn, the guy wrote a book called The Quarterback Whisperer,” said Andrea Kremer, an Emmy Award-winning sports journalist who completed a feature on Arians that aired Tuesday on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

Related: MORE BUCS: Making practice 'as hard as possible' for Jameis Winston

“And he truly has been, to Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning and now he’s got his biggest challenge in Jameis Winston. But you’re hiring for that. You’re hiring him for his inventive playing calling and his great offensive mind.

“The Glazers were not real fired up that he said he’s not going to be calling the plays,” she said.

Arians admitted he had to sell the Glazers on 39-year-old Byron Leftwich serving as offensive coordinator and play-caller. It’s a first for Leftwich.

Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, left, talks to Jameis Winston (3) during training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center on July 30, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, left, talks to Jameis Winston (3) during training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center on July 30, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. MONICA HERNDON | Times

“Yeah, there was a real good conversation about it,’’ Arians said. “I said, ‘Just trust me. My hand is there. I’m right over his shoulder. He is trained and ready to go.’ It’s just something I wanted to do.’’

Returning to the sideline in Arians’ plans when he left the Cardinals following their 2017 finale on New Year’s Eve, citing health reasons. Since taking the Bucs head coaching job in January, he has lost 25 pounds and was able to pass a physical — with a C, he says.

Still, he watches a good portion of practice from his golf cart.

Arians also believes he can reduce some of the rigors of the job by delegating duties like play-calling.

Arians says he and Leftwich, whom he coached in Pittsburgh, have always seen the game the same way. And frankly, Arians admits he’s never going to take off the headset.

“It’s easy right now. Like right there, I was wanting to call a couple plays,” he said, before mimicking a conversation with Leftwich: “Hey, try this. Get out of the way.’’

All that sounds good, but this is really the first time Arians hasn’t called the plays or made the scripts for the game plan as a head coach.

So why now? And why Leftwich?

Part of it is due to Arians’ health. He admits the coaching profession nearly killed him once when he was getting migraines as the head coach at Temple.

The other part is due to his belief in Leftwich. It took him five years to convince the former quarterback to put down the golf clubs and pick up a whistle. But a two-day trip to Arizona did it a few years ago.

““It just hit me: This is maybe what I’ve always been meant to do,” Leftwich said.

Leftwich coached quarterbacks at Arizona. He was asked to take over as offensive coordinator when the Cardinals fired Mike McCoy midway through last season. It was too late to change the playbook or the terminology, but he tried to make the best of it.

“I believed you got to do what these guys practiced through all of training camp,” Leftwich said.

After Bucs practices, Arians returns to his office to watch the tape of the day’s training camp workout. He doesn’t sit in on Leftwich’s meetings too often but they talk frequently.

Related: MORE BUCS: Will they live up to the training camp hype?

“He and I are getting together and we’re talking more game-planning that we ever did before and that’s the exciting thing about it,’’ Leftwich said.

Leftwich trusts Arians to know he is ready for this job, so why shouldn’t the Glazers? But you have to wonder, what if things don’t go well? What if Arians feels the need to take the play-calling back again?

“I know it’s going to be hard in September,’’ Arians said. “But maybe I can be a better game manager because I’m not cussing out refs and calling plays.”

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud