Leftwich didn’t want to talk about the Jaguars opening on Thursday, Dec. 16, as he walked away from the Bucs press conference with a smile.
“I’m just trying to win a division,” Leftwich said per ESPN’s Jenna Laine.
The Bucs can win the NFC South on Sunday, Dec. 19, with a victory over rival New Orleans. Tampa Bay lost the last meeting between the two on Oct. 31 in the Superdome.
Rumors of Leftwich going to Jacksonville next season will persist anyway. Pro Football Network tabbed Leftwich as one of the top seven candidates to replace Meyer in Jacksonville. Sporting News similarly ranked Leftwich as one the eight most likely Jaguars candidates.
Leftwich guides the top-ranked Bucs offense, which produces 410.2 yards and 31.5 points per game. The Bucs offense put up monster numbers every season since Leftwich arrived in 2019 — though quarterback Jameis Winston’s interception issues marred his yardage record.
Leftwich Ascended Quickly in Coaching Ranks
If Leftwich gets the head coaching job at Jacksonville, it will mark a return home for the Bucs assistant. He played quarterback for the Jaguars, which took him No. 7 in the 2007 NFL Draft. He went 24-20 with the team in four seasons.
Leftwich “has quickly risen in the ranks of NFL coaching, going from an intern under Bruce Arians to the play-caller of the winning team of Super Bowl 55 within five years,” Pro Football Network’s Adam Beasley wrote.
Teams’ interest in Leftwich emerged during the Bucs 2020 season playoff run, but it never amounted to an interview. Leftwich getting overlooked never sat well with Bucs head coach Bruce Arians.
“I was very, very pissed that Byron didn’t at least get an interview this year,” Arians said per Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. “… I think I get way too much credit and so does Tom Brady for the job that Byron has done. Hopefully next year people will see that he took Jameis Winston and broke every single record here, scoring and passing, and now Tom has broken both. He’s done a fantastic job, he’s everything supposedly what people are looking for.”
As Beasley noted, “that oversight will be corrected in the coming weeks” whether or not Leftwich coaches the Jaguars or elsewhere.
Tall Order in Jacksonville
Meyer’s return to Florida didn’t go well in Jacksonville as he couldn’t get the Jaguars (2-11) turned around this season amid a myriad of on-field and off-field problems.
He previously coached at the college level Florida followed by Ohio State. Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will serve as the team’s interim coach for the final four games of the regular season.
Jacksonville drafted quarterback Trevor Lawrence first this year out of Clemson but doesn’t have a lot of Pro Bowl talent around him yet. The Jaguars slid from AFC contention in 2017 to a bottom feeder in the NFC South.
Tampa Bay benefited from the Jaguars slide in 2020 when the team cut running back Leonard Fournette before the 2020 season. Fournette emerged as the lead back for the Bucs this season.
Leftwich has past and more recent familiarity with the Jaguars organization through his playing days there and Fournette’s. In addition, Leftwich has succeeded working with NFL quarterbacks, which could be a boon for Lawrence and the Jaguars.
As USA Today’s Bucs Wire noted, fans are clamoring on Twitter for the Jaguars to hire Leftwich.