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No Ninja Turtles here. Bucs new coordinator was born for the sidelines

John Romano | Liam Coen had no use for childhood games, instead immersing himself in his dad’s football practices.
 
Liam Coen’s arrival in Tampa Bay presented a minimal disruption in the Bucs’ huddle and, perhaps, increased the odds that quarterback Baker Mayfield would re-sign with the team.
Liam Coen’s arrival in Tampa Bay presented a minimal disruption in the Bucs’ huddle and, perhaps, increased the odds that quarterback Baker Mayfield would re-sign with the team. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Feb. 7

TAMPA — You want his resume. You want to know his qualifications, references and stats.

You want to know what the Bucs saw in Liam Coen that convinced them to hire a youngish coach from a middling college football program to run their offense.

Mostly, you want reassurance that this isn’t some longshot gamble on an unfamiliar name.

So maybe you should start in the cramped office of a high school football coach in Rhode Island more than 30 years ago. Tim Coen was reviewing the day’s practice when one of his assistant coaches pointed to Liam on the floor. Tim looked down to see his son had commandeered a chalk board and drawn up a wishbone offense with all 11 players in proper position.

He was 4 years old.

Or maybe you look at the University of Maine in 2014-15 when Liam Coen was the passing game coordinator and Shane Waldron the offensive line coach. Waldron eventually took a job with the NFL team in Washington where he became chummy with offensive coordinator Sean McVay. When McVay became the head coach of the Rams, Waldron urged him to hire his one-time colleague in Orono, Maine.

Coen went from a Division I-AA school to the NFL in a single leap.

Or, before that, when he was a 24-year-old video coordinator at Brown after his pro career as a quarterback fizzled out following one season in the Arena Football League. He cut up practice tapes and made hype videos for the Ivy League school after his own record-setting career at UMass.

He was making $16,000 a year in 2010.

“He didn’t watch cartoons or movies like other kids; he would watch tapes of my high school team. You could hear him from the other room like he was broadcasting the game,” said Tim Coen, who played baseball at Eckerd College in the 1970s and has a winter home near the Rays’ spring training complex in Charlotte County. “I’d be on the couch watching TV at night, and he would put pillows on the ground and have me throw him the ball while he would make diving catches.

“It wasn’t like I ever had to push him toward this. He just loved every second of it.”

And now that love affair has brought him to Tampa Bay, where Coen, 38, has the opportunity of a lifetime.

Technically, this is his second stab as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. He had a one-year stint with the Rams in 2022, but McVay retained play-calling duties for all but a couple of games. So Coen last year returned to Kentucky, where he would have full control over the offense.

It was a backward move that his father could appreciate. Tim Coen started the football program at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1992 and led the Seahawks to a 53-12 record in nine seasons. He resigned in 2000 in order to coach Liam’s high school team. With Tim as coach and Liam as quarterback, La Salle Academy went 44-3 and advanced to four consecutive state title games, winning twice.

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Liam Coen, seen here before a University of Kentucky game with his father Tim, is returning to the NFL as the offensive coordinator for the Bucs. Tim was a high school and college coach in Rhode Island for more than 30 years.
Liam Coen, seen here before a University of Kentucky game with his father Tim, is returning to the NFL as the offensive coordinator for the Bucs. Tim was a high school and college coach in Rhode Island for more than 30 years. [ Courtesy of Tim Coen ]

While he was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Liam’s mother Elizabeth died of Lyme disease from a tick bite more than a decade earlier. The tragedy only strengthened the bond between a father and his only child.

“He’s my best friend,” Liam said Tuesday at his introductory press conference. “I grew up with a football. That’s all I’ve ever known — unfortunately for my wife. I don’t really change a light bulb well, I don’t vacuum well or change a tire, unfortunately. But she can do all of those things, which is amazing.

“(My father) is my best friend, like I mentioned. He was my hero. I always wanted to be who he was. I wanted to be a head football coach. My early years of childhood were not really playing with action figures or Ninja Turtles. They were figurines and footballs and drawing up plays. That’s been my passion since, really, I can remember.”

Coen has no illusions about why he was hired by Bucs coach Todd Bowles. His success in two different tours at Kentucky most assuredly played a role, but it was also his brief working relationship with quarterback Baker Mayfield with the Rams in 2022 and his familiarity with the style of offense that Dave Canales installed in Tampa Bay last season.

In that sense, Coen’s arrival presented a minimal disruption in the Bucs’ huddle and, perhaps, increased the odds that Mayfield would re-sign with Tampa Bay in the next month.

“For them to win the division and win a playoff game and be the 32nd-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, there’s a lot of room for growth,” Liam Coen said. “That’s why this is so intriguing.”

So now you know why the Bucs thought he was a perfect solution. And you know why Coen thought this was the perfect job.

Soon, we’ll know if they were perfect for each other.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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