Bucs’ Byron Leftwich, Tom Brady’s game caller, awaits the shot
On Monday morning, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians responded to a question about his diverse coaching staff by making an effort to reiterate his anger over how the NFL’s last hiring cycle had impacted – specifically the way his more trustworthy one had Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was excluded from the process.
“I was very, very pissed off that Byron didn’t get at least one job interview this year,” Arian’s told reporters over a Super Bowl conference call. “I think I’m getting way too much credit and Tom Brady for the work Byron has done.”
The 41-year-old Leftwich, as Arians correctly noted, was everything that should be in vogue for head coaching spots in today’s NFL. A former quarterback, a game caller.
But instead, he got Nada, not even a hint of the seven teams looking for new head coaches this off-season. It was just the latest example of how the NFL, despite its recent efforts, attempted to resolve its head coach diversity problem through a reinforced Rooney Rule.
“I think hopefully next year people will see him take Jamie’s Winston and break every single record here by hitting and passing and now Tom has broken both,” said Arians. “He did a fantastic job.”
But while the final product is easy to love, with Brady having its most prolific passing season in years, and Tampa Bay ending with the league’s fifth offense on DVOA, the Bucs’ path to Super Bowl LV against the Chiefs didn’t make it was easy as Brady and Leftwich were forced to ride some rough spots along the way, especially in late November.
Nonetheless, thanks to excellent, honest communication and the occasional tough coaching that Brady accepted due to the respect Leftwich had offered, they still managed to be a tell-tale sign of his general virtue as a coach that those who know him cannot stop from rave.
“I think Byron did an amazing job and he’s a great guy and we have a great relationship,” said Brady. “I’ve known him for a long time, we’re about the same age and we played against him. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him and now that we’re working together it’s been great. He has a great work ethic and a great soccer IQ. “
Byron Leftwich and Tom Brady’s relationship grew during a difficult time
It took the Bucs offense a while to find its current form. A season-opening loss to New Orleans showed rifts in the founding, and while Tampa Bay bounced back to win the next three games, Arians knew the team had a long way to go.
“We scraped out a game or two,” said Arians. “But we had no idea what we were doing.”
Things got a bit better in October when the Bucs ran another winning streak in three games to push their record to 6-2.
But a miserable November, crowned by a 27-24 home defeat to the Chiefs in Week 12, their third loss in four games, cast serious doubts on the Bucs’ title chances and inspired several thinkers about what the heck was in Tampa which fell to 7-5 with the loss.
Not only was Brady struggling to hit the deep ball – he was 0:19 on his attempts in weeks 8-11 – he also had seven interceptions in weeks 9-12, his worst four-game spell since 2011.
In retrospect, however, the following bye week was a turning point, as the coaching team and offensive players caught their breath and regrouped.
“That was huge for us just to sit back and scout ourselves a bit, just record it all, listen to Tom, Tom listen to us, Byron and BA listen,” said Bucs deputy head coach and running game coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “And it’s been great ever since.”
The Bucs haven’t lost a game since goodbye week, averaging 34 points in their last seven competitions. And while Arians noted that Tampa Bay got well after parting, Brady also attributes some of their recent refinement to the fact that he and Leftwich simply have a better understanding of what works for Brady with this offense.
“You know, it was just a growing process for both of us and growing together,” said Brady. “When you work together over a long period of time, we see the game very similarly. When he watches a movie he thinks, ‘Oh, Tom wants this’ and vice versa.
“It took a while to get there because we didn’t have a lot of things that we normally have in football [like OTAs]. We’ve certainly done a little better in the past few months. “
But in a way, the fact that Brady, whose performances surpass most coaches he will ever have, got used to Tampa Bay so quickly is pretty telling.
“What was the most amazing thing about this whole thing is the way he approaches it,” Leftwich said. “He came in and told me from day one,” Just train me – let me know what you want. “Of course we work together from a schedule standpoint. But he’s really the type of guy who says,” I’m going to do this piece, whatever you call it, to a high level. “
Brady responds well to the tough coaching of Leftwich, Bucs’ staff
One thing you need to understand about Brady is that despite his position as a G.O.A.T. in professional football knows that the only way to get better is through honest criticism.
While Brady has his own opinion, he accepts the tough coaching of the Bucs.
“[Bruce Arians’] The philosophy is to coach them hard, which is a lot of swear words at times, ”Goodwin said with a laugh. “We’re going to train you hard no matter who you are and Tom takes it and, you know, he comes out on the other end and plays well. So this works for all of us.”
And while Leftwich is two years younger than Brady, he admits he’s not shy about training Brady hard either.
“Oh yeah, he wants to be trained hard … he wants you to let him know when he’s not doing the right things,” Leftwich said. “And that’s the easy part for me because you want to help, you want to put the player in the best position to succeed.”
Brady said that dialogue allowed him to understand a different way to attack the defense on Sunday than he was used to after two decades in New England.
After years of clubbing teams with a strong running game and accurate short passing as a Patriot, Brady has shown it more in the Leftwich and Arians vertical passing attack this year, throwing the most yards (4,633) since 2015, the most touchdowns (40) since 2007 and the most 20 Yard Plus Passing Games (63) since 2011.
“It’s been fun learning about different things over the year, different ways of dealing with different situations,” said Brady. “Ultimately, it’s not always about agreeing, but about aligning yourself when you step into the field. So you have to be 100 percent on the same page as we were on match day. And how we get to this point has been a great conversation, great learning for me. “
In this partnership, however, growth isn’t limited to just Brady.
Leftwich has to become NFL head coach sooner rather than later
Despite everything Leftwich did for the Bucs’ offense, he appreciates not only the way Brady is actively seeking coaching, but also the way Arians (a noted offensive guru himself) made it possible for him to do the Carry out the crime at your own discretion.
“The best part is that you grow,” Leftwich said. “It makes you grow and see it the way you see it and do the things that you like to do from a schematic standpoint. It’s just great to have a guy like that. … I have big insulting heads in the building every day that I can ricochet off if necessary. “
And Leftwich, said assistant coach Tom Moore, thrived in the role.
“Byron really took the bull by the horns … after playing the position he’s now involved and coaching it and naming it,” said Moore. “Byron is doing a great job.”
Leftwich also has great leadership skills, Goodwin added, with his ability to get the most out of the players in a variety of ways, as well as his ability to communicate offensive meetings and present to the team in meetings.
With such rave reviews, it’s no wonder Arians was so visibly frustrated on Monday that Leftwich didn’t even get a call for a head coaching interview.
He was certainly not alone.
“I’m still amazed at the success he’s had over the past two years calling plays that he didn’t get interviews on – it’s unhappy for him,” said Goodwin. “But hopefully that will change in the future.”
When Leftwich learned of the support he had received on Monday, Leftwich didn’t seem to blink, realizing that he just needs to keep getting better at what he’s doing.
Still, Leftwich colleagues believe the NFL head coach’s opportunity, which he has missed, will come sooner rather than later.
“It is a matter of time before Byron becomes the head coach of this league – and rightly so,” said Moore. “And what he is, he will have great success.”
Meanwhile, the Leftwich-Brady relationship has never been more important as the Bucs prepare for the biggest game of the season that could not only add to Brady’s legacy but also shape Leftwich’s coaching future.
“[We’ve got] One more game and it’s for everything, ”said Brady. “So I’m curious what we can come up with for Sunday.”
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