With the Buccaneers, Byron Leftwich has been selected for the fall role

Here’s the reality of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ decision Thursday to fire offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich: When a franchise with high expectations struggles all season and is embarrassed about the playoffs on its home court, well, someone’s got to catch the trap take oneself.

After Tampa Bay’s offense fell off the cliff this season despite still being directed by quarterback Tom Brady, the most successful passer in NFL history, Leftwich was equally likely to remain on the team’s coaching staff like Carlo Rizzi did to move to Nevada. with the Corleone family at the end of The Godfather. It just didn’t happen.

Not surprisingly, head coach Todd Bowles fired the 43-year-old Leftwich and fired five other assistant coaches in a major shake-up of his staff. The Buccaneers (8-9) barely managed to finish first in the disappointing NFC South (each of the division’s other three teams went 7-10), and they were beaten 31-14 by the visiting Dallas Cowboys in the wild card round.

Sure, the Buccaneers have been really terrible on offense this season. Their total touchdowns fell from 61 last season to just 31 this season – one of the steepest declines in league history – and one could choose from a host of stats to highlight their failure.

From that perspective, the Buccaneers making the call to move on from Leftwich seems like the right thing to do. But as is usually the case with this kind of thing, there is more to it.

Let’s start where everything does in attack: the line.

Before the season began, Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowl left guard Ali Marpet announced his retirement. For context, Marpet had been a mainstay in Tampa Bay’s offensive line during Brady’s previous two seasons with the team, the first of which ended with the franchise winning its second Super Bowl championship. Last season, the Buccaneers went 13-4 in the regular season and won a playoff game.

Guard Alex Cappa, another mainstay on the line, signed with the Cincinnati Bengals on free duty. Early in training camp, Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffered a serious knee injury and was sidelined for the entire regular season. Jensen was activated for the postseason and played in the blowout loss to the Cowboys.

In the preseason, guard Aaron Stinnie, a reliable reserve lineman who shone at the start while Cappa was sidelined in the Buccaneers’ race to win Super Bowl LV, also suffered a serious knee injury and has not yet returned to the lineup. As if all those injuries weren’t enough to ruin every offensive playcaller’s best plans, All-Pro tackle Tristan Wirfs sat out several games due to an ankle injury.

The thing is, the core of an O-line that paved the way for two of the best seasons in franchise history was stripped before the season-opening kickoff, and the new look group wasn’t nearly as good as the old guard. It is intellectually unfair to any head coach worth his salt to think that Tampa Bay’s injury-plagued offensive line would perform to its previous high standards.

With the dearth of first-class quarterbacks in the NFL, the seven-time Super Bowl winner remains a top-tier performer. But let’s be honest: while Brady again had some impressive stats, his game often failed the eye test.

At times he looked downright average. Now, yes, the team’s subpar offensive play has no doubt contributed to the future Hall of Famer not always being the superstar NFL fans have come to idolize over the past 23 seasons.

Of course, Brady’s age is part of the discussion. He’s 45. It would take some impressive mental gymnastics not to put any of the Buccaneers’ offensive decline on his shoulders either.

The Buccaneers’ running game, as it was, didn’t help.

The team finished last in the NFL, averaging 76.9 rushing yards per game. Again, the O-line issues come to the fore in a big way here as well. Does anyone really believe that Leftwich would rather have had the worst rushing attack in the league with a QB closer to 50 than 30?

When an offensive or defensive coordinator is ousted, analysts will invariably complain about a perceived lack of creativity from the ousted coaches. However, the Buccaneers offense hasn’t been abysmal this season as other offensive play-callers pull nicer Xs and O’s than Leftwich. It won’t work without the right parts, and the Buccaneers’ offense lacked them in many areas.

Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Leftwich has kept the same approach he used to help Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl and 29 games combined (including postseason) the previous two seasons. His game designs seemed advanced enough at the time.

The Buccaneers’ firing of Leftwich leaves the NFL with only two black offensive coordinators: Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs and Pep Hamilton of the Houston Texans. Hamilton’s position with the Texans is unclear after the team fired Lovie Smith, leaving Bowles and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the only Black head coaches in the 32-team NFL (more on that in a minute).

In general, offensive assistants — and especially those who work closely with quarterbacks — are the most sought-after candidates to fill head coaching positions. For this season, the NFL implemented its first hiring mandate in its history, requiring teams to hire an offensive assistant coach from a minority.

The hope is that fellows in the program will continue to climb the coaching ladder and eventually enter the hiring pipeline for top positions such as NFL offensive coordinators and head coaches. Leftwich had reached a high step but was knocked down by being fired.

Make no mistake, as head coach of the Buccaneers, Bowles has the right to assemble his staff however he sees fit. Bowles inherited Leftwich and the rest of the staff after being promoted from defensive coordinator last March to replace former head coach Bruce Arians, who unexpectedly resigned and assumed a front office position with the organization. But Leftwich’s sacking is another blow to diversity in football operations at club level. Just facts.

Bowles could also be on shaky ground next season.

He’s not off to a good start on his second chance to lead a team. As of 2015, Bowles coached the New York Jets for four seasons, and he can’t count on a third chance to occupy a head coach’s office. He has to make this work. Throwing Leftwich and other aides overboard is straight out of the textbook on how to shift the blame. Leftwich didn’t call the defensive plays as Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott shredded the Buccaneers’ defense at Raymond James Stadium. Bowles had that duty.

Yes, Leftwich was a goner from the moment the curtain fell on the Buccaneers’ season. The script was already written.

To see it coming, Leftwich had only to flip to the end.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially competitions involving his son and daughter.

Draft: Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1st round (7th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft.

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