When he came out of retirement to coach the Buccaneers back in 2019, Bruce Arians said a large reason he did so was because his entire coaching staff was available to come with him. The starts truly aligned for Arians, as well as for Todd Bowles. You never want to get fired, especially as a first-time head coach in the NFL. But after he was let go by the Jets at the end of 2018, Bowles joined his longtime friend in Tampa and has never looked back.
The second half of the 2019 season gave everyone a glimpse into just how good Tampa Bay’s defense could be. In 2020, it all came together—especially down the stretch as the team went on to win the Super Bowl. In the 31-9 Lombardi Trophy-clinching win over the Chiefs in February, Bowles’ defense put together an all-time performance to stifle Patrick Mahomes and the rest of Kansas City’s high-powered offense.
There are plenty of reasons to praise the job Bowles has done in Tampa, which is why Pro Football Focus ranking him as the fifth-best defensive play caller in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season is no surprise. Really, he could stand to be even higher on the list. Here’s what PFF’s Eric Eager had to say about Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator:
“The Buccaneers were on the precipice of good things defensively by virtue of a 2019 performance that, while near the bottom of the league in scoring defense, was solid in terms of efficiency metrics, such as expected points added or yards per play allowed. They’ve spent seven Day 2 draft picks on the secondary recently, and while it didn’t make sense to us at the time, research suggests that the capital used on Vita Vea was well spent. Bowles’ time with the Jets should be looked on more forgivingly given the direction the franchise went once he left, and once that’s done, it’s pretty clear he’s making a case for another head coaching gig in 2022.”
The Buccaneer defense is miles better than it was by the end of Mike Smith’s tenure in Tampa. Part of that is due to investment on that side of the ball in the draft, but a large part of it has been Bowles as well. Eager isn’t alone in thinking that the 57-year-old may be due for another crack at a head coaching job soon. He received some calls in this most recent cycle while the Bucs were in the playoffs, but ultimately nothing came of it.
Bowles has been looked at by many, including our very own David Harrison just last week, as a potential replacement for Arians once he heads back into retirement. There’s reason to believe he’d stick around with Arians—a man he’s known since he played for him at Temple in the 1980s—until he eventually gets the reins in Tampa. His players certainly love him, with both Lavonte David and Devin White recently giving him some love. David even admitted he was glad his coordinator didn’t get a head coaching job in this last cycle, though he added that he thinks he deserves one.
It’ll be interesting to see what lies ahead for Bowles, whether it’s in Tampa or elsewhere in the NFL. What we know for sure now, though, is that his defense may very well be one of the league’s absolute best in 2021.