Well, here we are again.
One year after the Jacksonville Jaguars conducted a search for a new head coach to replace Doug Marrone, the team finds itself in the same situation this winter, now looking for a replacement for their replacement.
Names have been thrown around with vigor as potential candidates to replace Urban Meyer, while several interviews have been officially set up between coaches and the Jaguars' brass.
But who is the best candidate for the Jaguars? What does each of them bring to the table, on and off the field? From Jim Caldwell to Kellen Moore and everyone in between, we examine the pros and cons that come with each coach and their potential impact on the Jaguars.
Next up in our review of this year's candidates: Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator and former Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich.
- Arizona Cardinals (2016): Offensive assistant
- Arizona Cardinals (2017–2018): Quarterbacks coach
- Arizona Cardinals (2018): Interim offensive coordinator
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2019–present): Offensive coordinator
Out of all of this year's coaching candidates, few have a track record as a coach that spans fewer years than Leftwich. Leftwich first got his start in the NFL as the Jaguars' first-round pick in 2003, staying with the team through the 2006 season before stints with the Falcons (2007), Steelers (2008), Buccaneers (2009), and then a final return to the Steelers (2010-2012), which saw him create a strong bond with Bruce Arians, who was serving as the Steelers offensive coordinator.
It was then with Arians that Leftwich got his start as an NFL coach. Arians hired Leftwich during the 2016 training camp to assist with coaching the Cardinals' quarterbacks, before eventually being hired as the team's full-time quarterbacks coach the next year. Leftwich was retained in his role by new head coach Steve Wilks in 2018, eventually being promoted to interim offensive coordinator following the firing of Mike McCoy.
After Wilks was fired following the 2018 season, Leftwich again reunited with Arians as Arians became the head coach of the Buccaneers after a year away from coaching. Leftwich was named Arians' offensive coordinator and was given play-calling duties as the Buccaneers saw Jameis Winston break every major franchise passing record in 2019.
Leftwich remained in his role the next two seasons as Winston was replaced by Tom Brady, with Brady going on to break all of the offensive records Winston set the year before as Tampa Bay marched toward a Super Bowl title. Since Leftwich's first year, the Buccaneer's offensive DVOA has improved year, going from No. 23, to No. 3, to No. 1 in 2021.
Being the middle man for Arians and Brady has been seen as a knock by many, but it shouldn't be. Leftwich instead deserves credit for the way he has been able to marry each Arians' and Brady's offensive philosophies and created a strong bridge of communication between the two. Brady and Arians are both difficult and demanding personalities, and Leftwich has been able to navigate that and help Tampa Bay's offense not miss a beat.
“Yeah, I think Byron has done an incredible job. He’s a great guy. We have a great relationship,” Brady said about Leftwich ahead of last year's Super Bowl.
“I’ve known him for a long time – we’re about the same age. I played against him. Always had a lot of respect for him. Now that we’re working together, it’s been great.He’s got a great work ethic, a great football I.Q. It’s just been a growing process for both of us, growing together. When you work together for a long period of time, you begin to see the game very similar. When he’s watching film he thinks, ‘Oh, this is what Tom would like’ and vice versa."
While Leftwich has been gifted with talented skill players, a strong offensive line, and a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Tampa Bay, it is also worth noting that he helped Winston have the most productive year of his career in a pass-heavy offense that emphasized aggressive shots down the field.
Winston threw 30 interceptions in large part due to his aggressive decision-making and the nature of Tampa Bay's offense, but it was also one of the most explosive passing games in the NFL. If there is any curiosity about how Leftwich can develop a young quarterback like Trevor Lawrence, then his work with Winston is a good idea.
Leftwich has also been credited internally in Tampa Bay for a bulk of their offensive success, even with Brady having a large hand in the offense. Leftwich is still the play-caller and has navigated high-leverage situations, with Arians stating last year that he thinks Leftwich deserves some of the credit for Tampa Bay's success that Brady seems to get.
“I was very, very pissed that Byron didn’t at least get an interview this year,” Arians said last year following a coaching cycle that didn't see Leftwich earn an interview.
“For the job that he’s done . . . I think I get way too much credit and so does Tom Brady for the job that Byron has done. Hopefully next year people will see that he took Jameis Winston and broke every single record here, scoring and passing, and now Tom has broken both. He’s done a fantastic job, he’s everything supposedly what people are looking for."
In terms of leadership, Leftwich would also present a style that is vastly different to the toxic and heavy-handed approach instilled by Urban Meyer in 2021. If the Jaguars want to go the opposite direction of Meyer, then a young player's coach like Leftwich would certainly fit that bill.
Inexperience. When it comes to Leftwich and his qualifications for the Jaguars' head coaching role, it is clear that inexperience is the biggest thing working against him. While this has been something other young NFL head coaches such as Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Mike Vrabel have been able to navigate, there is genuine risk with Leftwich considering he has been an NFL coach for just a few years now.
How would Leftwich function leading a team as opposed to just an offense? All coaches have to be leaders no matter their role, but Leftwich has spent just one season out of Arians' shadow, with Arians serving as the leading voice for nearly every team Leftwich has coached on. For a team that just saw inexperience play a major role in the downfall of Meyer, there could be some sense of risk in Leftwich's limited time spent in the coaching ranks.
Then there is the fact that Leftwich's offense in Tampa Bay is far and away more talented than the one he would inherit in Jacksonville. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Tristan Wirfs, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet, and even Antonio Brown before recent events all would have qualified as the best players on Jacksonville's entire offense.
None of those players (sans potentially Godwin, a free agent) would follow Leftwich to Jacksonville, which has an argument to make as the least talented offense in the NFL outside of Lawrence. Lawrence has a high ceiling and is a legit selling point, but going from Brady to a second-year Lawrence would clearly be a massive leap and one that Leftwich would have to prove he can handle.
Finally, there is the Brady factor. While Leftwich has earned praise from both Brady and Arians, there is no question that having Brady at the helm of an offense helps a coordinator in a massive way. Brady has seen it all and can run his own offense at this point, so there will be transition and some projection in a post-Brady offense.