TAMPA, Fla. -- In one of the most shocking moves of arguably the wildest NFL offseason in recent memory, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Wednesday that coach Bruce Arians is transitioning from a head-coaching role into a front-office one, with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles being elevated to head coach.
The timing of the move is unusual -- peculiar even. Did Tom Brady push Arians out?
Arians had already committed to returning in 2022 -- even doing so in a text to ESPN on Jan. 30, saying he was "totally" returning, even after Brady announced he was retiring. He attended the NFL combine earlier this month and was present at the NFL owners meetings this week before leaving one day early and not speaking to the media because of what were described as "personal reasons."
But a source told ESPN that Arians informed Brady shortly after his return announcement that he would be stepping aside, which meant Brady was actively recruiting players to join Tampa Bay with full knowledge that Arians wouldn't be the coach.
What's also interesting is that Arians informed Bowles of his decision Monday, a source told ESPN, after getting clarity on a hiring rule at the owners meetings. So Brady knew about this before Bowles did.
Most close to Arians believed that at 69 he would continue coaching for just a few more years. Still, members of his staff were shocked when Arians informed them of the news Wednesday before it was made public. Bowles' promotion ensures continuity on defense, and it gives Brady and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich even more ownership of the offense.
Bowles had long been considered Arians' successor had he not been hired elsewhere. He interviewed for head-coaching vacancies with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears this offseason but was passed up for both. But Tampa Bay has always been the kind of place where Bowles could thrive.
Unlike when he was the coach of the New York Jets, Bowles doesn't need to dazzle at the podium to earn favor with fans and the media. He can keep his usual evasiveness, sprinkling in a touch of dry, self-deprecating humor -- something most people don't get to see unless they're speaking to him one-on-one or in an informal setting.
Bowles just needs to win, and he's in a position to focus almost solely on defense, a defense with a style that is very similar to that of the team's 'No risk it, no biscuit' identity.
Bowles' promotion comes at a critical time in the NFL, a league that has struggled to find answers to its diversity hiring struggles, to the point that the league just adopted a new rule this week that all teams must add a minority offensive coach for the 2022 season and expanded the Rooney Rule to include women.
While Bowles is not on the offensive side of the ball, which tends to be where many head-coaching hires are currently made, his presence is certainly impactful. He becomes the sixth minority head coach in the NFL and third hired this year, joining Lovie Smith (Houston Texans) and Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins). Bowles also becomes the fourth Black head coach in Buccaneers history -- two more than any other team has had.
There are plenty of questions, some of which won't be answered for some time. Bowles might get only one shot at this with Brady, who's not under contract after the 2022 season, but could this keep Brady in Tampa longer should things go well? Or will Bowles be responsible for bringing along a new quarterback and taking on the growing pains that come with it?
It's also fair to ask how Bowles will handle this expanded role given he had just one winning season with the Jets (10-6 in 2015) in his four-year tenure, although many would also argue that synergy within the Jets' organization was lacking and Bowles was set up to fail, whereas Arians was trying to do the opposite.
"I wanted to ensure when I walked away that Todd Bowles would have the best opportunity to succeed," Arians said in a statement. "So many head coaches come into situations where they are set up for failure, and I didn't want that for Todd. Tom's decision to come back, along with Jason and his staff doing another great job of keeping the core of this team intact during free agency, confirmed for me that it was the right time to pass the torch to Todd."