TAMPA — When Byron Leftwich arrived for work Thursday, he found a painted commemorative NFL football placed in each coach’s locker congratulating the staff for winning back-to-back division championships for the first time in franchise history.
An hour later, the keepsake took on a new meaning for the Bucs’ offensive coordinator: Thanks, you’re fired!
Following a losing season and one-and-done playoff appearance despite having Tom Brady at quarterback, the Bucs made massive changes to Todd Bowles’ coaching staff.
Leftwich and five assistant coaches were fired while three others retired. Gone in the housecleaning are receivers coach Kevin Garver, specialists coach Chris Boniol, running backs coach Todd McNair, assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and offensive quality control coach Jeff Kastl.
Three other assistants have decided to retire, including quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, 66; senior offensive assistant Rick Christophel, 70; and outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders, 69.
The decisions were made after Bowles met with members of the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, and general manager Jason Licht.
“We appreciate the hard work and contributions that all of these coaches made to our success over the past four seasons,” Bowles said in a statement. “As a collective group, we did not meet the high standards that had been set for this past year and my focus now is on doing what is needed to ensure a successful 2023 season. These were very difficult decisions but something that I felt was necessary to our football team going forward.”
Bowles gathered his entire coaching staff around 10 a.m. and began the meeting by saying the team was nearly $60 million over the projected 2023 salary cap, confirming they would have a tough time signing many free agents. Tom Brady will cost the Bucs $35.104 million in dead cap space. Then Bowles began calling his staff members into his office and informing them of their fate one-on-one.
Some of the firings were to staff members who were not considered essential but rather were former head coach Bruce Arians’ outside-the-box hires. Boniol, for example, only worked with place-kicker Ryan Succop and was under special teams coach Keith Armstrong. Locust was among the first full-time female assistants ever hired by an NFL team but served as an assistant to defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. Kastl assisted Leftwich with various duties.
Bowles wasn’t promoted to head coach until March 30 and basically inherited Leftwich and the coaching staff from Arians, who retired to take a job as senior advisor to Licht.
Despite the Bucs ranking last in the NFL in rushing yards, average and attempts, the Bucs retained, for now, offensive line coach Joe Gilbert and running game coordinator Harold Goodwin.
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Leftwich’s firing was not unexpected after the Bucs suffered one of the sharpest declines on offense in league history, going from 61 touchdowns in 2021 to only 31 in 2022.
Brady attempted a career-high 66 passes in Monday night’s 31-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC wild-card game, two shy of the league’s playoff record and the most in his 383 career games, including playoffs.
Leftwich, 43, joined the Bucs as offensive coordinator in 2019 as part of Arians’ original coaching staff. His firing comes after a season in which the Bucs scored 198 points fewer than they did in 2021.
The Bucs averaged more than 30 points per game under Leftwich during the 2020 season, when they won Super Bowl 55, and 2021, when they earned the first of consecutive NFC South titles.
Even with Jameis Winston at quarterback in 2019, the Bucs averaged 28.6 points per game.
But this season, Tampa Bay struggled just to average 18.2 points during the regular season. The team only twice eclipsed 30 points, including a 41-31 loss to Kansas City on Oct. 2.
The Bucs will begin an immediate search for Leftwich’s replacement. Among the candidates are Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. The former Penn State and Houston Texans head coach was Brady’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator for three seasons in New England.
Tampa Bay had discussions with O’Brien a year ago, when they believed Leftwich might be hired as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken is a name to watch if he were to be willing to return to Tampa Bay in the same position he held calling plays for Dirk Koetter in 2018. Looking at the current roster, the Bucs could consider Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson or former Gators head coach Dan Mullen, both of whom worked with Kyle Trask at Florida. Trask is the only Bucs quarterback under contract for 2023.
Leftwich played quarterback with the Steelers when Arians was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator and was a disciple of the “No Risk It, No Biscuit” offense that featured a wide-open, deep passing game.
In his first season with the Bucs, Brady passed for 4,633 yards with 40 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while leading Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl championship.
He followed that up by leading the NFL with 5,316 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2021.
But under Leftwich, the Bucs never could produce any balance with the run game. In the past two regular seasons, Brady led the league with 719 and 733 passing attempts.
It is unclear what, if any, impact Thursday’s coaching changes will have on Brady’s decision to play in 2023. He will be 46 next August and is an unrestricted free agent.
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