Todd Bowles, who has unexpectedly graduated from defensive coordinator to head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, is obviously amid a period of great adjustment. In fact, he found himself adjusting on the fly during his introductory press conference on Thursday as he tried to find his spot on the 'cool-chill' spectrum.
Bowles, of course, is moving into the head seat because Bruce Arians is stepping aside and transitioning into a consultant role. Arians finishes a three-year stint at the Buccaneers' helm that started with him making it clear he was going to be the coolest guy that most of the people in the building had ever worked for. Bowles doesn't think he can quite match that description.
"I may not be 'the coolest guy you'll ever meet,' but I'm pretty damn chill myself," he said with a laugh. "I'll take that. Bruce will always be the coolest but I'll roll with the chill category and I'll try to start something there."
The problem, though, was that Bowles was eventually prompted to talk about Tom Brady, who happened to be in the first row, and that brought him to the realization that he might not get to claim the top spot in the chill category either.
"He's probably a little more chill than I am, so I've got to find a new thing other than that, too, because Tom is chill," riffed Bowles, clearly enjoying showing off the sense of humor some don't realize he has. "I've got to find my niche in this whole thing."
That was all a bit of entertainment on Thursday afternoon, but Bowles really does have to carve out his own niche as he replaces the man that has been a mentor for him for most of his life. Bowles played for Arians at Temple back in the '80s and they both worked on the same coaching staff together for the first time in 2001 with the Cleveland Browns. It was Bowles' excellent work as the defensive coordinator on Arians' staff with the Arizona Cardinals that launched him to his first NFL head coaching job with the New York Jets in 2015.
View photos of Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles' introductory press conference.
Bowles obviously knows that Arians has had a huge hand in molding him into the coach he is today.
"He will probably be – not probably, definitely – the most influential coaching figure, father figure that I have ever had in my life in this league, for as long as I shall live or continue to be in this league," said Bowles. "And I just want to thank him personally before I go on, just face to face so the whole world knows what he has meant to me, what he means to our coaching staff, what he means as a family man … he teaches, he takes advice, he understands, and that's what you need to be a good leader. I'll try to do that going forward."
But if there are countless lessons Bowles can take from playing and coaching under Arians – and even if he can continue to get advice from Arians at Buccaneer headquarters moving forward – he knows he can't just be an Arians clone. In fact, that's yet another lesson he got from Arians.
"That's the best advice that I've gotten," said Bowles. "I think that when I first started in New York [I found that] when you try to do things the 'right way,' you don't do things your way and you end up having regret. So I'm going to do things my way.
"I think Bruce hit it right on the head: I'm just going to be me. I cannot be him. I don't expect to duplicate the things he's done. [He] won a Super Bowl, won a division – I want to duplicate that part, but probably with some tweaks and in a different way. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, and I'm just going to do it my way. I'm going to do it my way. I'm going to do it my way wit ha lot of advice from him, a lot of advice from the other coaches. But I'm going to say what I feel. I'm a very honest guy, very straightforward there, and we'll get to know that as a group, as well.
In his first season at the Jets' helm, Bowles took a team that had finished 4-12 the season before and guided it to a promising 10-6 record. However, the Jets struggled the next three seasons and Bowles left with an overall win-loss record of 24-40. Could you find some reasons to spread the blame around for that tough stretch? Probably. For one, the Jets had a bit of a QB carousel in that span, ending in Sam Darnold's rookie season. However, Bowles has no interest in looking for such excuses.
"I think when you take a head job [for the first time] you have to wear a lot of hats, but you had never experienced wearing those hats," he said. "When you understand that going in…without the experience I think you tend to do things a little differently. You have to be man enough to know when you can change things. Usually when people get fired they blame everybody else. The first thing I did was look within myself, and there were a lot of things I can do better."
The timing of Bowles' end in New York was actually pretty fortuitous. Arians had spent the 2018 season in retirement but the Buccaneers were able to lure him back into the job in 2019. He insisted at the time, and has emphasized frequently since, that he probably wouldn't have returned if he didn't have the opportunity to hire a number of specific people for his staff. Bowles was at the top of that list.
And Bowles is back in a head coaching seat now largely because that reunion has gone so well. The Buccaneers' defense over the past three seasons has been among the league's best in a wide variety of categories and was a juggernaut on the biggest stage in Super Bowl LV. Arians expected to lose Bowles to another head coaching position after that game and again this offseason. Bowles did get some interviews but no offers, but he says even those interviews have helped him be in better position for the job he has now.
"Anytime you get an [interview] opportunity, I think it's an opportunity to learn, to grow, to get inside an organization and see how they run things," he said. "Sometimes the timing isn't right. There's only 32 of these things in the league. When you talk about all the football programs in college and 32 in the professional league, it's hard to say you're disappointed. To be even considered for the opportunity is really a blessing, no matter how many times you have to do it."
Bowles was the man for this sudden and unexpected opportunity in Tampa. And he plans to make the most of it by being his own man this time.