TAMPA — During the season, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich can be found in his office several hours before dawn, breaking down video of the Bucs’ next opponent as if it’s the Zapruder film.
It took head coach Bruce Arians five years to talk Leftwich off the golf course and convince him he would have a bright future as an NFL coach. But once he was bitten, the former Jaguars and Steelers quarterback fell in love with helping players get better.
At 42, Leftwich has quickly built a resume any assistant coach would be proud of. Since 2019, he has presided over one of the league’s top scoring offenses, and the last two seasons helped Tom Brady win a Super Bowl and a passing title.
It’s no surprise that Leftwich has interviewed for several head coaching jobs. He’s a finalist in Jacksonville, where he was a first-round pick of the Jaguars in 2003. The Saints also have asked for permission to interview Leftwich.
But don’t expect him to jump at just any head coaching job. He has said he plans to be patient.
“Even though I’m a coach, I think I deal with things as a player,” Leftwich told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this season. “And what I mean by that is I’m not looking for the next job. I’m not trying to elevate myself or push myself. I’m not a 22-year-old trying to climb the ladder. I coach because I love coaching and I want to help the player.
“I’ve been a player before. I want to help the player be as good as he can be instead of saying, ‘Oh, he can’t do this,’ and just blame the player. I want to actually help the player. I’m not throwing all these guys under the bus. I think they all can play. There’s a lot of good football players in the league, and as a coach sometimes it’s your job to develop it.”
The Saints have requested to interview two external candidates: Leftwich and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. They also are expected to have interest in former Dolphins coach Brian Flores.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said the Saints don’t have a set number of candidates they may interview right now.
“There’s a lot of candidates. Now, who we ultimately interview, that number gets pared down to the guys that we think will fit what we’re a.) looking for and b.) the circumstances we have,” Loomis said Friday. “... Some of that gets dictated by where guys are in the process with other teams.”
What are the pluses and minuses of the jobs Leftwich is being considered for?
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The biggest plus is quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has been called a “generational talent” but struggled as a rookie. He passed for 3,641 yards with 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Leftwich stood in Lawrence’s shoes during four seasons in Jacksonville. He knows the expectations of a No. 1 pick. What better coach to develop a young quarterback than a guy who has played the position and worked with Brady the past two seasons?
Unfortunately, the rest of the Jaguars roster isn’t very talented, and control of it may belong to general manager Trent Baalke.
There was a report that Leftwich wanted the Jaguars to hire Adrian Wilson, the Cardinals’ college scouting director, as general manager. But so far, the team has not asked for permission to talk to Wilson.
Ironically, the Saints have owned the Bucs in the regular season, winning the past seven games. Of course, the Bucs got them in a division-round playoff game a year ago on the way to winning Super Bowl 55.
Unlike Jacksonville, New Orleans is unsettled at quarterback. Taysom Hill is under contract but has been limited by injuries. Jameis Winston’s final two years will be voided the first day of the new league year in March.
The pluses Leftwich knows all too well. The Saints defense is solid, having shut out the Bucs 9-0 in December. Of course, the Saints have a really good in-house head coaching candidate in defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
Loomis is one of the better GMs in the NFL, so acquiring more talent should not be a problem.
But again, Leftwich can be selective.
“I don’t think like some would in my position who are looking to climb the ladder as some guys would in their position,” Leftwich said. “I’ve been blessed to have played in this league.”
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