Editor’s note: This has been updated through Saturday, Jan. 5.
TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have interviewed three head-coaching candidates this week — Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Wednesday, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards Friday and former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians on Saturday. The Bucs plan to interview Dallas Cowboys secondary coach/passing game coordinator Kris Richard on Sunday, according to ESPN sources.
Here’s a closer look at the four candidates:
Key traits: Passion, intensity, attention to detail, no-nonsense
Core philosophy: While Bieniemy’s background is as a running backs coach, he believes in the importance of attacking downfield, and you’ll see that in his playcalling. While the Chiefs passed the ball 583 times in 2018, more than any other team in the league, Bieniemy’s playcalling at the University of Colorado from 2011 to ’12 was nearly a 50-50 split, suggesting he can adapt. Perhaps more balance for Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, as opposed to outgoing head coach Dirk Koetter’s vertical attack, will work?
Bragging rights: He helped lead Kareem Hunt to a league rushing title as a rookie with 1,327 yards in 2017. The Bucs were second to last in yards per carry (3.92 average) and had the fewest rushing yards from a running back (1,050) in 2018 (Winston had 281 rushing yards). Former Vikings coach Brad Childress also credits Bieniemy for his work with Adrian Peterson, calling him “unmerciful.”
Key question that must be answered: How much can he help Winston after spending a year working with Patrick Mahomes? While Andy Reid calls the offensive plays, Bieniemy has been responsible for assembling playbooks, game plans and running offensive meetings. It’s also his voice in the headset that Mahomes hears, not Reid’s.
Quotables: “[Quarterback] is a detailed position … It’s very easy to go, ‘Ah, we can let that one slide.’ That’s [not] how [Bieniemy] goes about it. He’s going to make sure everything is covered. I trust him for that. I can’t be there every second. He jumps in and just takes charge, and I have full confidence in him so I can go be the head coach and he can run the offense. He does a heck of a job with it.” — Reid
“He does not let me miss any detail of what the play is supposed to do, what the protection is supposed to be, and that helps me a ton, because when we get to the game, everything is a little bit easier,” Mahomes said.
Key traits: Calm, steady, excellent teacher, very detailed.
Core philosophy: A 4-3 defense utilizing pressure, disguises and zone blitzes. A defense that is in constant attack mode.
Bragging rights: Since taking over for Alan Williams in 2014, the Vikings have gone from allowing a league-high 30 points and 397.6 yards per game (second most in the league) in 2013 to giving up 19.31 points and 317.9 yards per game (both third fewest in the league) from 2014 to 2018. The Vikings finished the 2017 season allowing a league-low 275.9 yards per game. The Vikings also have had 16 Pro Bowl selections on defense in that span.
Key question that must be answered: While Edwards would inherit Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, Vita Vea and possibly Gerald McCoy (depending on his contract situation) and Justin Evans, he had a whopping nine first-round draft picks on defense in Minnesota. Can he succeed with fewer blue-chip players? Also, though Mike Zimmer has been the one calling defensive plays over the years and not Edwards, Zimmer began delegating more and more responsibility to Edwards so he could focus on the team as a whole.
Quotable: “George does everything. He helps with the game plan. He runs a lot of the meetings, the defensive meetings. Him and I really sit down and talk about all the different things that are going on. He studies the game just like he’s calling the game, so he’ll come in and talk to me about second down and whatever, they’re doing this or they’re doing that. Really, I mean, he does everything other than call the game on Sunday.” — Zimmer
Key traits: Known as a straight-shooter, Arians relates to players and connects with everyone in the organization and is known for his fairness. Former intern and longtime college assistant David Kelly said Arians “is a guy you never want to disappoint because he sincerely cares about you.”
Core philosophy: Remember Bucs general manager Jason Licht using the phrase “no risk it, no biscuit” when trading into the second round of the 2016 draft for Roberto Aguayo? That’s a Bruce Arians philosophy, and you can see that in his strong vertical passing attack when he was the Cardinals’ head coach, producing the league’s No. 1 offense in 2015. Working over personnel, Licht worked with Arians in Arizona so there is a connection there already. Like Koetter, Arians believes in pushing the ball down the field — even with running backs (see, David Johnson). He likes to go for it on fourth down, too.
Bragging rights: Arians became the winningest coach in Cardinals’ history, going 50-32-1 (including playoffs) in five seasons. He is the only Bucs candidate with NFL head-coaching experience. Prior to his time in Arizona, he won two Super Bowls as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he spent eight seasons. He has tutored the likes of Carson Palmer, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.
Key question that must be answered: Is he still fit to coach? Arians had a number of health scares while with the Cardinals. He was rushed to the hospital twice during the 2016 season (for diverticulitis and chest pains) and also had kidney cancer that year. Considering what the Bucs dealt with in 2014 with offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford never coaching a game, this has to be looked into closely. Is Arians (and his family) ready for the NFL again after he retired only one season ago?
Quotable: “Jaboo was a Birmingham [Alabama] legend. He would be fun to coach, there’s no doubt about it. He’s a winner and a great leader and obviously a heck of a young quarterback.” — Arians, who is referring to Winston’s longtime nickname.
Fun fact: This may be the strongest case for hiring Arians above all other candidates — his relationship with Winston. The two go way back to when Winston attended Arians’ football camps in Birmingham as a youngster. Arians even showed Winston his Super Bowl rings. “He really motivated me to go after a Super Bowl,” Winston said prior to the Bucs playing the Cardinals in 2016.
Key traits: High-energy, relates well to players, known for his passionate speeches. As one former assistant put it, “He is the kind of coach a team can feed off of, because his standard for play is set high.”
Core philosophy: 4-3. A former NFL safety who latched on to Pete Carroll’s coaching tree and spent five years as a secondary coach before becoming a coordinator (and again with the Cowboys), Richard believes in a hard-hitting defense and taking the ball away, as seen by the vaunted Legion of Boom in Seattle. Defensive backs play closer to the line of scrimmage and much more aggressively than with the cushion seen under former Bucs coordinator Mike Smith.
Bragging rights: Taking over defensive playcalling for Rod Marinelli this season, Richard helped the Cowboys to the league’s sixth-best ranking in points allowed (20.25 per game). Prior to that, Richard served as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2017 (replacing Dan Quinn). In that span, the Seahawks allowed 311.2 yards per game, second best in the league, with the third-fewest passing yards allowed (215.1 yards per game), second-fewest yards per rush allowed (3.68) and third-fewest points per game allowed (18.77).
Key question that must be answered: The Bucs don’t have Seattle’s secondary or Dallas’ pass-rushers. Richard would have less to work with. The Bucs don’t have a strong ground game either — a defense’s best friend. The Cowboys also have had one of the league’s worst third-down defenses (42.3 percent, 27th in the league), an area the Bucs have had serious struggles with as well.
Quotable: “Guys respect you when you’re consistent each and every single day. They love you when they know it’s real. That it’s who you really are. That’s the point. I want to show them how much that we love doing this, and if we say it and if we mean it, then let’s go show it. That’s the bottom line. Each and every single time that we step out there, we are blessed. We can’t forget that. Not everybody has the opportunity to do this, so when you’re out there, let it go. Lay it all out there.” — Richard
“I think he might be as good as any acquisition coming in,” Marinelli said. “I mean that now. This guy is really good. … This guy is special. I mean, he’s special. … You know that ‘it’? He’s got ‘it.'”
Fun fact: He wears cleats to practice so he can illustrate how to perform drills … and just to get in on the action.