The Tampa Bay Buccaneers set a new course for the franchise last week by hiring Bruce Arians, and they wasted no time in giving him the help he needs to turn the team around.
On Wednesday, eight days after Arians was named the 12th head coach in team history, the Buccaneers announced the hiring of 18 assistant coaches, including Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. Like Leftwich, many of the new additions worked with Arians at some point during his five years as the head coach in Arizona (2013-17). Tampa Bay had previously announced three other senior coaches on the new staff: Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles and Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin.
As Arians noted in his introductory press conference at the AdventHealth Training Center on Thursday, he is starting from what he considers a strong base in terms of team ownership, the general manager position and his own appointment as head coach. After that, favorable circumstances allowed him to land many of the first-choice candidates for his coaching staff quickly.
"When this opportunity came…I just like to say the stars aligned," he said. "Because we have those three things and then the staff that I wanted and always wanted, is available. It's going to be a staff of fantastic teachers."
Below are the assistants announced on Wednesday. Eleven of the 18 have previously worked on an NFL staff with Arians.
· Tim Atkins, defensive quality control coach
· Chris Boniol, specialists coach
· Mike Caldwell, inside linebackers coach
· Mike Chiurco, assistant to the head coach
· Clyde Christensen, quarterbacks coach
· Rick Christophel, tight ends coach
· Larry Foote, outside linebackers
· Kevin Garver, wide receivers
· Joe Gilbert, offensive line coach
· Cody Grimm, defensive/special teams assistant
· Amos Jones, assistant special teams coach
· Byron Leftwich, offensive coordinator
· Todd McNair, running backs coach
· Antwaan Randle El, offensive assistant
· Nick Rapone, safeties coach
· Kacy Rodgers, defensive line coach
· Kevin Ross, cornerbacks coach
· John Van Dam, offensive quality control coach
Arians has called offensive plays on game day for much of his career as an NFL coach, but he won't do so in 2019 as he begins his tenure in Tampa. That responsibility will go to Leftwich, who spent the second half of last season calling plays for the Cardinals under Head Coach Steve Wilks. Arians' decision to cede play-calling duties to the young coach had more to do with the time the two spent together on Arizona's staff in 2017.
"I've been training guys for this job, and I always said I would never give it up and look over anybody's shoulder until I found one I knew could do it," said Arians. "Byron, I think, is a rising star in this business. What he did with the interim title out there, it wasn't even his offense. It was Mike McCoy's offense and he did a heck of a job with some rookies."
Leftwich finished his 10-year NFL playing career in 2012 and, four years later, embarked on his coaching career by joining Arians' Cardinals as a coaching intern in the team's 2016 training camp. Arians then hired Leftwich to be his quarterbacks coach in 2017, and he stayed on in that position under new Arizona Head Coach Steve Wilks after Arians' retirement.
Leftwich played in 60 games played and 50 starts as an NFL quarterback, throwing for 10,532 yards, 58 touchdowns and 42 interceptions. He played for the Buccaneers in 2009, starting the first three games of the season. Jacksonville made Leftwich the seventh-overall pick in the 2003 draft and he started 44 games over four seasons with the Jaguars. He had a 24-20 record as a starter for the Jaguars during that span, including an 8-3 mark in 2005, in which he threw 15 touchdown passes against just five interceptions.
Like Leftwich, Caldwell, Chiurco, Christophel, Foote, Garver, Jones, Rapone and Ross all worked on Arians' staff for at least one season in Arizona between 2013-17. Chiurco, Christophel, Garver, Jones Rapone and Ross were members of that group for Arians' entire five-year tenure while Bowles left after two years to take the New York Jets' head coaching position. Caldwell went with Bowles to serve as the Jets' assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach.
Foote, a linebacker in the NFL for 13 years, actually played with the Cardinals under Arians in 2014 and then joined Arizona's coaching staff the next year. Foote and Arians were also together with the Pittsburgh Steelers for seven years (2004-08 and 2010-11).
Arians intersected with Christensen and Gilbert in Indianapolis in 2012 when Chuck Pagano arrived as the new head coach and brought in Arians as offensive coordinator. Christensen, who had held that position for Indianapolis the three previous years under Jim Caldwell, stayed on as the quarterbacks coach. Gilbert got his first NFL job that season as the Colts' assistant offensive line coach. Arians later served as the Colts' interim head coach that year after Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia.
Rodgers and Arians have not previously worked together but Rodgers was Bowles' defensive coordinator during his four years with the New York Jets. The same is true of Atkins, who was on the Jets' staff the past three years. Boniol, Grimm and Randle El all played in the NFL but do not have a previous coaching connection with Arians. Boniol has coached in the college and pro ranks the last nine years and Grimm was on the Virginia Tech staff in 2018. This is Randle El's first position on a college or NFL football staff.
Atkins follows Bowles to Tampa Bay after three seasons in the same position with the Jets. Prior to his time in New York, Atkins charted games for the Cleveland Browns for two seasons (2014-15) and served as a Buffalo Bills defensive assistant from 2012-13. That followed a one-season stint with the UFL’s Florida Tuskers (2010). Atkins broke into the NFL as a defensive assistant for the Miami Dolphins from 2006-08 before becoming a defensive graduate assistant at Florida Atlantic University (2008-10). He also coached on the collegiate level for Whittier College as wide receivers coach (2005) and safeties coach (2004).
Boniol's NFL playing career began with a very successful three-year run in Dallas after he made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech in 1994. The first Cowboy ever to score more than 100 points in three straight seasons, he made 87.1% of his field goal tries in that span, including a single-season team-record 96.4% (27 of 28) in 1995. Dallas went on to win Super Bowl XXX at the end of that campaign. Boniol also holds the Cowboys' franchise record with a streak of 26 consecutive field goals made in 1995. After his Dallas tenure, Boniol played two more seasons in Philadelphia and one in Chicago.
Boniol also began his coaching career with the Cowboys in 2010, beginning a four-year stint as the team's assistant special teams coach and specifically working with the team's kickers and punters. In 2011, Dan Bailey followed Boniol's path and won the Cowboys' kicking job as an undrafted free agent. In three seasons working with Boniol, Bailey made 89 of 98 field goals (90.8%), beginning a very good seven-year run in Dallas. Boniol also worked one season (2014) in the same capacity with the Oakland Raiders and then took over as the special teams coach at Louisiana College for the next two years. Before joining Arians' staff in Tampa, he had spent the past two years as the special teams quality control coach for Mississippi State.
Caldwell played linebacker in the NFL for 11 seasons after being drafted by Cleveland in the third round in 1993. After three years with the Browns he subsequently played for Baltimore, Arizona, Philadelphia, Chicago and Carolina. In all he played in 159 games with 49 starts and recorded 521 tackles, eight interceptions, 14.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
Caldwell began his coaching career with the Eagles in 2008, starting as a defensive quality control coach and eventually progressing to linebackers coach. Arians hired him to coach the Cardinals inside linebackers in 2013, with Karlos Dansby, Kevin Minter and Daryl Washington among his charges. As noted earlier, Caldwell followed Bowles to the Jets in 2015.
Christensen returns for a second stint with the Buccaneers. He got his start in the NFL in Tampa in 1996, when new Bucs head coach Tony Dungy hired the former Clemson offensive coordinator to coach tight ends. Christensen remained with Dungy throughout his Tampa tenure, moving over to the quarterbacks room in 1999 and then being named offensive coordinator in 2001. When Dungy took over as head coach in Indianapolis in 2002, Christensen joined him as the wide receivers coach for the next seven years. Dungy departed after the 2008 season and his replacement, Jim Caldwell, made Christensen the offensive coordinator for the next three campaigns. The Colts' offense finished in the top 10 in both points and yards the next two seasons, Peyton Manning's last two years in Indianapolis.
Christensen transitioned to quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis in 2012, just in time for the arrival of first-overall pick Andrew Luck. In Luck's first three years under Christensen, prior to an injury that cost him much of the 2015 campaign, he averaged 4,319 yards and 29 touchdowns per season.
Christensen joined the staff of new Head Coach Adam Gase in Miami in 2016 as the Dolphins' offensive coordinator and spent two years in that role before serving as the director of football/player development last season.
Christophel had coached on the college level for more than 30 years before Arians brought him into the NFL for the first time in 2013. Not surprisingly, the two had previously intersected during their careers, in this case at Mississippi State. They worked together on the Bulldogs' staff in 1993 and 1994, with Arians as the offensive coordinator and Christophel as the wide receivers coach. Christophel has also had stops at Austin Peay, Southern Arkansas, Cincinnati, Rice, Vanderbilt and – from 1995 through 2006 – Alabama-Birmingham. He has tutored virtually every position in that span and has been both an offensive and defensive coordinator, as well as the head coach at Austin Peay from 2007-12.
Foote was a fourth-round pick by the Steelers in 2002 and he became a full-time starter in 2004, the same year that Arians arrived to coach the Pittsburgh receivers. Foote started all 80 games over the next five seasons before playing one season in Detroit and then returning to Pittsburgh for four more seasons (2010-11). He then finished his playing career with one season under Arians in Arizona, starting 15 games before immediately transfer to coaching in the 2015 offseason. In all, Foote played in 187 games with 134 starts and amassed 807 tackles, 25 sacks, 65 tackles for loss, 10 forced fumbles and four interceptions.
Foote started out on Arians' staff as an assistant linebackers coach, working with linebackers coach Bob Sanders. The next two seasons, he was designated as the inside linebackers coach with Sanders coaching the outside linebackers. Cardinals linebackers in that span included Karlos Dansby, Kevin Minter (currently with the Buccaneers0, Deone Bucannon and pass-rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden.
Garver is another coach who was introduced to the NFL by Arians, as he was hired by the Cardinals in 2013 as an offensive assistant. In 2017, he worked as the team's assistant wide receivers coach, and after Arians' departure he was retained on Wilks' staff and promoted to wide receivers coach. In that role, he worked with 11-time Pro Bowl wideout Larry Fitzgerald and helped him set a new career high with 109 receptions.
Garver attended the University of Alabama and began working with the school's immensely successful football program as a student assistant. He remained on the Tide's staff as a graduate assistant after his graduation and in all worked six years with the program, three of which ended in national championships.
After 25 years of coaching at the collegiate level, Gilbert first gained entry into the NFL in 2012 with the Colts, the same year that Arians ended up as the team's interim head coach. Gilbert came aboard as the team's assistant offensive line coach, then was promoted to offensive line coach the following season. He finished his six-year run with two more seasons (2016-17) as the assistant offensive line coach and then joined Kevin Sumlin's staff at Arizona last year as the offensive line coach. Gilbert had first worked with Sumlin in 2008.
Sumlin began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Albany in 1987. Subsequent stops on the collegiate level included Penn, Northeastern, Maine, Mansfield (PA), Toledo, Central Florida, Houston and Illinois. He tutored offensive linemen for most of that stretch but was the head coach at Mansfield in 2000 and he has also worked with tight ends. Among the future NFL draft picks Gilbert coached on the collegiate level were Nick Kaczur, Josh Sitton and Jon Asamoah.
Grimm returns to Buccaneer headquarters after playing three seasons (2010-12) for the team and appearing in 23 games with 12 starts. He arrived as a seventh-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech in 2010 and found his way into the starting lineup as a rookie, opening nine of the 11 games in which he started. He also began the 2011 campaign as the Buccaneers' starting free safety but both of his first two campaigns were clipped by season-ending injuries. His career stats include 61 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and one forced fumble.
Grimm returned to his alma mater in 2015 to begin his coaching career, first serving as a graduate assistant for two years before becoming a defensive quality control coach for the 2017-18 seasons. His father, Russ Grimm, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his work as an offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins and has also had an extensive coaching career in the NFL.
Jones has 38 years of coaching experience on the high school, college and professional levels, including the last 12 in the NFL. He was Arians' special teams coordinator for the head coach's entire five-year stint in Arizona and spent last season in the same position with the Browns. During his five years on Arians' staff, Jones helped Justin Bethel (2013-15) and Budda Baker (2017) earn four of the 10 possible Pro Bowl spots awarded to special teamers. His 2014 kickoff coverage unit ranked fourth in the league with an opponent average drive start following kickoffs of the 20-yard line. In both 2012 (Drew Butler, 34) and 2013 (Dave Zastudil, 35), Cardinals punters tied for the league lead in punts inside the 20.
Prior to his time in Arizona, Jones spent six seasons with Steelers, the first five of which he also overlapped with Arians. Jones was first Pittsburgh's assistant special teams coach (2007-11) before being promoted to special teams coach in 2012. In 2011, he helped Antonio Brown reach his first career Pro Bowl, as a kick returner, contributing to the club’s Super Bowl XLIII Championship. Two seasons earlier, the Steelers led the NFL in kickoff return yards, while Stefan Logan set a franchise record in that category. As a college coach, Jones had stints at Mississippi State (2004-06), James Madison (2003), Cincinnati (1999-02), Tulane (1995-96), Pittsburgh (1992), Alabama (1990-91, 1981-82) and Temple (1983-88). His first interaction with Arians came during that first stint at Alabama, when both were on the staff under legendary head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Jones also played running back and safety under Bryant.
Just months after Arians signed on as the running backs coach in Kansas City in 1989, the Chiefs drafted McNair, his former charge at Temple. McNair played eight seasons in the NFL, the first five with Kansas City and then two (1994-95) in Houston before returning to the Chiefs in 1996. He finished his career with 2,435 receiving yards, 803 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns. He was hired to be the Cleveland Browns' running backs coach in 2001 after the team had brought Arians in as the offensive coordinator, and the two were together for three years before Arians moved on to Pittsburgh and McNair went the college route, joining USC as the Trojans' running backs coach. He spent six years at USC.
Randle El played nine seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver for Pittsburgh and Washington and finished his career with 370 receptions for 4,467 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was a versatile offensive weapon throughout his career, also rushing for 438 yards and completing 22 of 27 passes for 323 yards and six touchdowns. He helped Pittsburgh win Super Bowl XL over Seattle with a game-clinching 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward, becoming the only receiver ever to throw a scoring pass in the Super Bowl.
After sitting out in 2011 and officially retiring in 2012, Randle El has spent much of the intervening years as the athletic director at Virginia Academy in Ashburn, Virginia, which he helped establish. He has also served as the academy's basketball coach on several occasions.
Chiurco spent last year as the head coach at Seton Catholic High School in Chandler, Arizona, but he was on the Cardinals' staff the prior five seasons under Arians. He started as an assistant to the head coach for his first two years but took over as a defensive assistant/defensive backs coach in 2015 after the departure of Bowles led to some changes on the Cardinals' staff.
Chiurco and Arians first crossed paths during the latter's first stint in Indianapolis (1998-2000). Chiurco got his first NFL job as a scout with the Colts from 1999-2003. Prior to that he was a student assistant at Ohio State for three years and then spent 16 years coaching at the high school level in Ohio.
After his five-year run with Arians in Arizona, Rapone spent last season coaching cornerbacks at Delaware, where he had also spent the previous seven seasons before Arians gave him his first crack at the NFL. It wasn't the first time that Arians had hired Rapone; the former brought on the latter to be his defensive coordinator when he got the head coaching job at Temple in 1983. They were together with the Owls for Arians' entire six-year tenure as the coach. Rapone has also held college coaching positions on the staffs at Pittsburgh, East Tennessee and Connecticut. He had a second long stint at Temple (1999-2005) as the secondary coach.
Arians took over at Temple just in time to coach Ross in his final season with the Owls, before the Chiefs drafted Ross in the seventh round in 1984. The two crossed paths again in 1989 when Arians began a four-year run as the Kansas City Chiefs' running backs coach. Ross played 14 seasons in the NFL, 10 of them in Kansas City and was twice named to the Pro Bowl. He is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame. Ross began his coaching career in 2004 with the Minnesota Vikings, tutoring the defensive backs under Head Coaches Mike Tice and Brad Childress. After three years in Minnesota, he joined the Chargers (2007-09) and then the Raiders (2010-11) in similar capacities.
Among the players Ross, Rapone and Chiurco worked with during their time on the Cardinals' staff were Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Antonio Cromartie and Budda Baker, who combined to earn eight Pro Bowl berths and four Associated Press first-team All-Pro selections. Other notable Arizona defensive backs during that stretch included Tony Jefferson, Rashad Johnson, Deone Bucannon and D.J. Swearinger.
When Bowles took over as the Jets' head coach in 2015 he tabbed Rodgers as his defensive coordinator and the two produced good results immediately. New York finished fourth in the NFL in scoring defense in 2015 and improved from 24th the year before to ninth in yards allowed. The Jets also had the 11th-ranked scoring defense in 2016. Bowles got Rodgers from within the division, as the latter had spent the previous seven years coaching the defensive line for the Miami Dolphins.
While with the Dolphins, Rodgers coached Pro Bowl defensive linemen Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai. Rodgers also worked with Pro Bowl defensive tackle La'Roi Glover in Dallas. The Cowboys gave Rodgers his first NFL coaching job in 2003, hiring him as the defensive tackles coach, and Glover would make the all-star game in each of the next three seasons. Rodgers then took over as the Cowboys' defensive line coach for the next three years (2005-07) before following Tony Sparano to Miami. That wasn't Rodgers' first taste of the NFL, however, as he signed as an undrafted free agent with Pittsburgh in 1992. Rodgers had a brief stint in the Canadian Football League and then moved into coaching at Tennessee-Martin in 1994. Before moving into the NFL, he also coached at Northeast Louisiana, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas.
Van Dam comes to Tampa Bay from Lafayette (Pa.) College, where he served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season. Prior to that, Van Dam was the offensive coordinator for Southern Illinois for two seasons (2016-17). In 2016, the Salukis led the Missouri Valley Conference total offense (470.2 yards per game), ranks second in points per game (30.9), and a school record and led the Missouri Valley Conference in passing yards in a season with 3,660.
Before arriving at Southern Illinois, Van Dam served as offensive quality control assistant and assistant quarterbacks coach at the University of Florida in 2015 and served in a similar role at the University of Michigan in 2014. That followed two seasons at the University of Alabama, where he was an offensive graduate assistant, primarily working with wide receivers. Van Dam was also a graduate assistant and tight ends coach at Augustana (IL) College in 2008 and 2009, before being promoted to passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach in 2010 and 2011. Van Dam played quarterback at Michigan State, where he earned Academic All-Big 10 honors from 2006-08.