Bucs fires offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich as part of extensive cleanup

TAMPA – When Byron Leftwich arrived at work Thursday, he found a painted NFL commemorative football in every coach’s locker to congratulate the staff on winning back-to-back division championships for the first time in franchise history.

An hour later, the memento took on new meaning for the Bucs’ offensive coordinator: Thank you, you’re fired!

After a losing season and a one-time playoff appearance despite Tom Brady at quarterback, the Bucs made massive changes to Todd Bowles’ coaching staff.

Leftwich and five assistant coaches were fired, while three others quit. Gone in the cleanse are receivers coach Kevin Garver, specialist 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 all these coaches have made to our success over the past four seasons,” Bowles said in a statement. “As a collective group we fell short of the high standards that were set for last year and my focus is now on doing what is necessary to ensure a successful 2023 season. These were very difficult decisions, but I felt it was necessary to move our football team forward.

Bowles gathered his entire coaching staff around 10 a.m. and began the meeting by saying the team was nearly $60 million above its projected salary cap for 2023, confirming that it would be difficult to attract many free agents. Tom Brady costs the Bucs $35.104 million in dead cap space. Then Bowles began calling his staffers to his office and briefing them one-on-one on their fate.

Some of the layoffs involved staffers not considered essential, but previously hired by former head coach Bruce Arians. For example, Boniol only worked with place kicker Ryan Succop and was under special teams coach Keith Armstrong. Locust was one of 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 tasks.

Bowles was not promoted to head coach until March 30, effectively inheriting Leftwich and the Arians coaching staff, 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 offensive line coach Joe Gilbert and running game coordinator Harold Goodwin for the time being.

Coordinator Byron Leftwich saw a sharp drop in scoring this season.
Coordinator Byron Leftwich saw a sharp drop in scoring this season. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
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Leftwich’s firing was not unexpected after the Bucs suffered one of the sharpest declines in offense in league history, going from 61 touchdowns in 2021 to just 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 short of the league’s playoff record and most in his 383 career games, including playoffs .

Leftwich, 43, joined the Bucs in 2019 as offensive coordinator as part of the original Arians coaching staff. His resignation comes after a season in which the Bucs scored 198 fewer points than 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 clinched 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 during the regular season, averaging 18.2 points. The team surpassed 30 points only twice, including a 41–31 loss to Kansas City on October 2.

The Bucs immediately start looking for Leftwich’s replacement. Among the candidates is 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 talks with O’Brien a year ago when they thought Leftwich would be hired as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken is a name to watch if he were willing to return to Tampa Bay in the same position he played for Dirk Koetter in 2018. Looking at the current roster, the Bucs might consider Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson or former Gators head coach Dan Mullen, both of whom worked with Kyle Trask in 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 with 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 as he led 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 could never achieve any balance with the run game. In the past two regular seasons, Brady led the league with 719 and 733 pass attempts.

It is unclear what impact Thursday’s coaching changes will have on Brady’s decision to play in 2023. He will be 46 in August and is an unrestricted free agent.

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