From Player to Coach – Byron Leftwich’s Journey


Byron Leftwich is the 16th to hold the official position of offensive coordinator in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ franchise history. He was also a former quarterback with the team, so let’s dive into his history to see how he came to be calling the offense.

Leftwich’s had a 10-year career in the NFL, most of it spent as a backup across four teams. Drafted seventh overall in the 2003 NFL draft, he took over for an injured Mark Brunell and eventually took his place as Jacksonville Jaguars’ franchise quarterback.

After losing his job to David Gerrard, Leftwich found himself bouncing across teams for the remainder of his career, with stints with the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Bucs. He fulfilled his duties as primary backup, filling in for Joey Harrington, when he was with the Falcons, and backed up Ben Roethlisberger, doing a commendable job. The Bucs saw flashes of brilliance and took a chance on him, making him their starting QB while they looked to rear Josh Freeman into an eventual franchise QB. An injury took Leftwich out for the remainder of the 2009 season. Leftwich’s career finished with the Steelers, backing up Roethlisberger.

Leftwich’s best year was in 2004 when he threw for 2,941 yards through 14 games, completing 60.5 percent of his passes and 15 touchdowns. The following year, despite playing fewer games, he was his most efficient, cutting his interceptions in half from 10 to 5 despite throwing for 800 fewer yards and a 2 percent drop in accuracy. But he still maintained his TD passing total. After being traded to the Falcons, Leftwich never topped 1,000 passing yards again.

In 2016, then-Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, with whom he was familiar during his days with the Steelers, hired Leftwich to be a coaching intern to help train their QBs. Arians became QB coach the following year. After Arians retired in 2017, Leftwich took over OC duties for head coach Steve Wilks after the team fired Mike McCoy in October 2018. He was fired from the position with Wilks’ firing in December 2018.

Despite never having coached at the college level, Leftwich has become a quick study. After taking over for McCoy in Week 8, Leftwich didn’t improve the already struggling offense, with the team finishing dead last in the league with 3,865 yards compared to Miami at 31st, with 4,638 yards by comparison. They also finished dead last in passing and rushing.

While it was a horrific start, you can excuse Leftwich, being a first-time playcaller on a bad team.  Arians runs his team differently than Wilks did, and it shows in the numbers. Despite it being Carson Palmer’s final season, the team did finish 15th in passing.

While 2018 was a rebuilding season for the Cards, the caliber of talent is far different with the 2019 Bucs. Jameis Winston is a definite step up over Josh Rosen (for now) and Mike Glennon. David Johnson’s had Doug Martin-type production, but whomever they bring in to run the ball will be Harold Goodwin’s responsibility. You can also argue that the receiving corps for the Bucs is significantly better than the Cards’ as well. Mike Evans is at the top of his game, while Larry Fitzgerald has one more season left in him, albeit still productive and clearly still the Cards’ no. 1 receiver. If DeSean Jackson stays or if the Bucs re-sign Adam Humphries, promote Chris Godwin to Jackson’s spot, or sign a veteran free agent, you can expect at least equivalent talent.

Better caliber of talent will make 2018 look like a mirage, barring any dramatic change to personnel on offense. The more time Leftwich spends under Arians, the better he’ll be. Who knows? He could end up making Winston as efficient as another former Bucs QB turned QB coach Mike Kafka, who helped turn Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes into NFL MVP.