Last Friday current Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich interviewed for the head coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. It marked a return of sorts for Leftwich, who spent his first four years as the QB of the Jaguars during his playing career. He led them to a 24-20 mark and one playoff appearance. Those aren’t gaudy stats, but they’re great compared to what the team’s been doing for much of the last decade.
If Leftwich is hired, he would become the fourth Black NFL head coach in a 32-team league whose playing rosters are approximately 70 percent African American. Those are awful stats, and that’s despite the league having had in place since 2003 the Rooney Rule, a measure developed by former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney. The rule says that teams must interview at least two minorities (bumped up from one) for all coaching and management positions. But even with that rule in place, only three Blacks were head coaches at the start of the 2021-22 season.
Leftwich is in his third season with the Bucs and head coach Bruce Arians and in his second season working with quarterback Tom Brady. Leftwich also was Arians’ offensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. Leftwich’s track record with Tampa Bay includes last year’s Super Bowl victory, and exemplary stats for this season. Going into Sunday’s finale, the Bucs led the NFL in yards per game (405.8) and passing yards per game (306.6), and ranked second in points scored per game (23.4). They ranked seventh, second and third in those categories in 2020. For rushing yards per game, the Bucs ranked 28th in 2020 and 27th this season.
Plus, for detractors who claimed that those figures were only achieved because Tom Brady was the QB, the Bucs’ offense led the NFL in passing and ranked third in points per game and yards per game in 2019 with quarterback Jameis Winston.
The NFL moved up the period when teams could interview candidates for head coaching positions this season, following complaints that by waiting till the end of the season it put deserving applicants in a bad position. But with Tampa Bay still trying to get the number two seed in the NFC, Letwich was a bit sensitive about taking an interview two days before the Bucs (12-4) hosted Carolina (5-11)/
“I really think it’s disrespectful to the Jets and whoever you’re playing that week when you’re talking about things that really has nothing to do with Sunday’s game,” Leftwich said last week. “I’m completely focused on this football game on Sunday. Obviously, as a coach anytime your name is thrown around, I guess it is what it is, but it really means nothing at this point. It really means nothing at this point, and I kind of think it’s disrespectful to the guys that you really work with every day. That’s really how I view that. If I’m ever fortunate enough to be in that situation, that’s when I’ll handle it, but as of right now, I’m really focusing on the opponent we’re about to play and getting us ready to try and play our best football.”
Leftwich is one of three Black current or former coaches interviewed for the Jaguars job. Current Tampa Bay defensive coordinator and former head coach Todd Bowles and former head coach Jim Caldwell have also been interviewed. Both Bowles and Caldwell, who had winning seasons with two teams and was by far the best coach the Detroit Lions have had in years, deserve to get head jobs. But Leftwich seems the idle candidate, given his Jaguars history and his ability with quarterbacks. Whoever gets the Jacksonville job will be entrusted with the development of rookie QB Trevor Lawrence, the number one pick in last season’s draft and someone labeled a “generational talent” while he was at Clemson. Lawrence has had a rocky first year, and among the many failures of now fired Urban Meyer, his inability to get much out of Lawrence was critical.
Owner Shad Khan has done such an awful job of picking head coaches that several fans planned to attend the home finale dressed as clowns to publicize their frustration. Khan could go a long way towards addressing some of that negativity, and also show himself more enlightened than many of his fellow owners by giving Byron Leftwich the opportunity he’s clearly earned.