Just when you thought the NFL’s Offseason of Diversity Folly couldn’t get any weirder, the league lands another Black head coach under crazy circumstances.
That coach is Todd Bowles, formerly of head coach of the New York Jets, who for the past three seasons has been defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bowles is getting the promotion after former Bucs HC Bruce Arians made a surprise retirement announcement on Wednesday night that left many NFL observers with one question: WTF is going on?
It’s not that Bowles doesn’t deserve a head coaching gig; he’s one of several Black NFL coordinators and assistant coaches who are qualified and experienced but who have seemingly waited for about a decade for the opportunity that anyone with eyes could see should have come a long time ago. That group also includes Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant Brian Flores, who’s suing the league for racial discrimination, and Bowles’ offensive counterpart in Tampa, Byron Leftwich. With the exception of Flores, every coach on that list has a Super Bowl ring on his resume as a coordinator. In today’s NFL, that’s the gold standard for landing head coaching opportunities.
So while Bowles clearly deserves the gig, what makes it odd is that no one saw Arians’ departure coming and there was very little to make a departure, just weeks ahead of the next NFL draft, likely. The Bucs are only a season removed from winning a chip and most of that roster is still intact. Antonio Brown is gone, but uh, well, yeah. But Tom Brady unretired and is back for another…waitaminute.
Was Brady’s return to football conditioned on sending Arians to the rocking chair (which, in this case, is in the Bucs’ front office since that’s where he’ll be working now)? Arians says, “Nah.” His decision was made with a succession plan in mind.
From NBC Sports
Arians said he has wanted Bowles, the architect of the Bucs’ suffocating 2020 defense that held Kansas City to zero touchdowns in a 31-9 Super Bowl win, to succeed him whenever he chose to step down. Arians also wanted Bowles to have the benefit of a great quarterback on the roster to give him the best chance to win. The Bucs’ owners, the Glazer family, agreed. The Bowles hire would be the fourth full-time minority coach hired by the Glazers (Tony Dungy, Raheem Morris, Lovie Smith, Bowles), which is the most in NFL history. No other team has had more than three non-interim minority head coaches.
With Bowles’ ascension, the NFL has gone to an offseason in which it had only one Black head coach (the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin) and a discrimination lawsuit to having five nonwhite coaches–Tomlin, Bowles, the Houston Texans’ Lovie Smith, the Washington Commanders’ Ron Rivera and the Miami Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel–with one of them leading a team with top-two odds to win the next Super Bowl, according to Vegas Insider.