TAMPA — The wood-paneled wall in an interview room at the AdventHealth Training Center is a facade. Bucs head coach Todd Bowles headed to the space after Friday’s practice, and it’s where he tapes his pre-game radio show during the week, with its faux fireside chat appearance.
The Bucs’ reality is less comfy and cozy. They are desperate for a win after dropping six of their past seven games as they prepare to host the 1-10 Panthers.
Bowles sounded authentic when asked if he is coaching for his job on Sunday.
“Not at all. Not at all,” he said. “I’ve been coaching way too long. You coach for your job every time you’re in this business. Good or bad. As a coach, you understand that. ...
“You’re never going to be at the top of your game. You coach, you get better and that’s all you do.”
The Panthers fired head coach Frank Reich on Monday after only 11 games, replacing him with interim coach Chris Tabor.
But while Panthers owner David Tepper has a quick trigger finger and has dismissed three head coaches since taking over the team in 2018, the Glazer family that owns the Bucs has never made a change during the season.
According to Bucs’ officials, Bowles’ job appears safe for at least the remaining six games, including four against the underwhelming NFC South. Despite their 4-7 record, the Bucs remain only one game behind the Falcons (5-6) and Saints (5-6).
Barring something unforeseen, the Glazers prefer to evaluate everything at the end of the season and weigh all factors, including injuries.
However, that doesn’t mean Bowles and the Bucs aren’t facing some headwinds. Starting inside linebackers Lavonte David (groin) and Devin White (foot) and cornerback Jamel Dean (ankle) are out for Sunday’s game. Rookie linebacker SirVocea Dennis is doubtful and did not practice this week due to an illness. Receiver Chris Godwin (neck) is questionable.
What’s hurt Bowles and the Bucs is that behind a solid starting lineup of mostly veteran players, many of whom earned Super Bowl 55 rings, are some very inexperienced rookies and second-year players.
It’s the path the franchise chose to take following three seasons of wild spending when Tom Brady was at quarterback.
Bowles isn’t the only one who has been in the crosshairs of fans and media. Unproductive starters such as linebackers Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Shaquil Barrett, cornerback Carlton Davis and White have received plenty of scrutiny.
“We’re 4-7 and we’ve lost a lot of games where I feel if had played just a tiny bit better, we could’ve been 8-3, 7-4,” Barrett said. “That’s what sucks about it. Even though we could be a pretty good team, we don’t beat a good team at the right time, and we always let ourselves down at the wrong time.”
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First-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales said Bowles has been unwavering during the Bucs’ collapse following a 3-1 start.
“(He is) the same guy,” Canales said. “That’s one of the things we talked about what I’m grateful for. (He is) the same guy. He attacks the things we need to work on. He focuses on the basics — the fundamental parts of it — then he recognizes that these guys are playing really hard. There’s no quit in our team. They’re going for it.
“There are just things that need to be shored up and fixed. Let’s just address it. Let’s just attack it head on. He stays really steady with us. That’s what I appreciate about working for him. He’s been so steady through this whole thing.”
Bowles knows the routine. He was a head coach for four seasons with the Jets, going 24-40. He went 10-6 his first year with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback but failed to secure a spot in the postseason. It’s the only winning record in Bowles’ six full seasons as a head coach.
Last year, Bowles wasn’t named head coach until Bruce Arians stepped down on March 30. The Bucs went 8-9 and fell 31-14 to the Cowboys in a Wild Card Game.
Bowles’ head coaching career with the Bucs parallels that of Raheem Morris, who was hired to preside over the team during three uncapped years.
Morris went 10-6 his second season, and he was 4-2 with wins over the Saints and Falcons the next year when the team headed to England for a game against the Bears. Not only did they lose, but it was part of a 10-game skid to end the season that resulted in Morris being fired.
Bowles is aware of the external chatter about his future. It’s not helping that as a defensive playcaller, it’s his side of the football that is struggling most.
The Bucs scored 37 at Houston and lost by two. The past two games at San Francisco and at Indianapolis, they allowed 27 apiece.
Bowles doesn’t believe his job is in jeopardy. At least he’s putting on a pretty brave exterior.
“Get some guys healthy,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys getting experience. We’re in some games. They’ve got to learn how to close them out. That’s all it is. We’re banged up. Everybody is banged up. We’re playing with a lot more youth. Most are playing with veteran backups but we’re in every game.”
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