The best thing about Todd Bowles being promoted to head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is not that a qualified Black coach is getting an opportunity. It is that Bowles is getting this opportunity.
Typically franchises make coaching changes because the team is losing due to poor coaching, an inadequate roster or internal dysfunction. Sometimes it's for all three reasons -- and more. That means new coaches often step into difficult situations that can take years to turn around.
Such is not the case with the Bucs. They won the Super Bowl two years ago and claimed the NFC South title last season after a 13-4 regular season. They have not only a loaded roster, which includes quarterback Tom Brady, but an experienced and talented coaching staff that returns completely in tact.
That is about as good as it gets for a new coach considering it's rare to inherit a Super Bowl-caliber roster in Year 1. But when it does happen, history says success is highly likely to follow -- at least in the short term.
We saw Barry Switzer lose in the conference final his first year, then win the Super Bowl the next after inheriting a Dallas team coming off back-to-back Super Bowl titles. We saw Jim Caldwell advance to the Super Bowl his first year after taking over an Indianapolis franchise that had at least 10 wins in nine of the previous 10 seasons, one of which ended with a Super Bowl victory. And Mike Tomlin won a Super Bowl in his second season after taking the reins of a Steelers squad that had gone to two conference finals and won a Super Bowl in the previous three years.
That is not to say that Bowles is going to reach the Super Bowl, let alone win it. But it is to say that his chances of doing so are significantly greater now than they were during his previous stint as a head coach.
The New York Jets were coming off four consecutive non-winning seasons in 2015 when Bowles took over. He guided them to 10 wins in his first season, then got caught in the blender of dysfunction that defined the team at that time, with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the center of it. Fitzpatrick, a journeyman known both for hot flashes and cold spells, threw for a franchise-record 31 touchdowns in 2015, but the team missed the playoffs because of a season-ending loss to Buffalo in which he threw three interceptions. New York wanted to bring him back that offseason as a free agent, but it also recognized the need to come up with a long-term plan. Neither worked in the Jets' favor.
Fitzpatrick re-signed but was not the same player, prompting the Jets to attempt to rebuild on the run. Bowles was caught in the middle of it and ultimately fired after the 2018 season. There seems to be little chance of him experiencing such dysfunction in Tampa Bay, where everything is pretty much status quo from the last few seasons under coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht.
"We're not changing the program, we're trying to add on," Bowles said at Thursday's press conference.
His chances for success in 2022 are great not only because of the talented roster and staff, but also because the NFC appears to be weaker with the departure of marquee players via trades or free agency. With the likes of Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Amari Cooper, Khalil Mack, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling going from the NFC to AFC, the road to the playoffs should be a bit easier -- if not significantly easier -- for the Bucs and Bowles, who is smart enough to keep what works while putting his own touches on areas he feels need tweaking.
He learned a lot from Arians during their nearly four-decade relationship, going back to when Bowles was a player at Temple and Arians was the coach. On Thursday, Bowles spoke about his maturation process during their time together, growing from a son to a nephew to a cousin and, finally, to a brother. He acknowledged that no person has had a greater impact on his development as a coach.
But Bowles is his own man, which he playfully pointed out.
"He smokes, I don't," he said. "He drinks, I don't. But we got along well because we never got in each other's way."
If there is a notable similarity between the two, it is their philosophy regarding good coaching, which requires the ability to teach, take advice and understand. Those are qualities for which Bowles is widely known, just as it is widely known that he is more than deserving of this opportunity. His promotion does not negate the fact that too many minority coaches are being passed over for jobs for which they are deserving; but it is a reminder that, in this particular case, perhaps there was a larger plan at work. A plan that none of us can see, but one which says the right thing will happen at the right time.
For Bowles, this opportunity, with this team, under these circumstances, is the right time.