NFC South Reporter
There has been remarkable turnover when it comes to NFL offensive coordinators: 16, or half the league’s OCs, will be new next season. And since the 2021 season, every team in the NFL has changed coordinators.
So as the Bucs searched for a third offensive coordinator in as many years, two things worked in Liam Coen’s favor. First was the continuity in his offensive scheme and philosophies, not far from that of Dave Canales, who left to become Carolina’s head coach. Second was Coen’s personal experience and familiarity working with quarterback Baker Mayfield, who led the Bucs to a division title and a playoff win in his first year in Tampa.
Coen, 38, was introduced as the Bucs’ new offensive coordinator Tuesday, and he hopes to have the chance to work with Mayfield, who has expressed sincere interest in staying in Tampa but is also five weeks away from being an unrestricted free agent. So exactly how high is Coen’s confidence level he’ll be able to work with Mayfield this fall?
“I want him to be here,” said Coen, who worked with Mayfield for five weeks at the end of 2022 when Coen was the Rams’ offensive coordinator and Mayfield took over as the starting quarterback. “It’s probably more want than know. He’s obviously a reason that I’m here. … I think he wants to be here.”
It’s the second year in a row that head coach Todd Bowles, 60, is trusting his offense to a young coach. Coen is three years younger than Canales was a year ago, and the results were good enough that he landed a head coaching job after only one year. Coen doesn’t know if he’ll have Mayfield — or star receiver Mike Evans, another free agent — but he’s very grateful to have his new job.
“I’m extremely lucky to be here, honestly,” he said. “This is a dream opportunity that they’ve presented myself and my family. … You can tell that there’s a real desire for this organization to continue to be great.”
The Bucs have made the playoffs four years in a row, matching the longest streak in franchise history, and they’ve won the NFC South three years in a row, having never won even back-to-back division titles before that. Mayfield set career highs with 4,044 passing yards and 28 touchdown passes last year, and his challenge is finding a way to improve on that, while resurrecting a run game that has finished last in the NFL in yards per game and yards per carry in each of the past two seasons.
“Liam best fits what we want to do offensively,” Bowles said in introducing him Tuesday. “There will be some similarities, but there will be some differences as well. Very bright mind, very bright young mind, understands football inside and out. I’m really happy to have him.”
In leaving for Carolina, Canales took receivers coach Brad Idzik to be his new offensive coordinator, with two more Bucs assistants, run game coordinator Harold Goodwin and offensive line coach Joe Gilbert, taking the same jobs with the Panthers. That gives Coen the freedom to put together his own offensive staff, perhaps with coaches from his Rams days, or the University of Kentucky, where he was the offensive coordinator last season.
Baker Mayfield discusses his career rebirth with Tampa Bay
Coen will be in a different job for the fifth year in a row — from the Rams in 2020 to Kentucky in 2021, back to the Rams as offensive coordinator in 2022, then back to Kentucky last year. He said Tuesday that in going back to Los Angeles, he underestimated how much he would miss calling his own plays — head coach Sean McVay called them most of the time with the Rams — and that he went back to Kentucky because he valued the autonomy and ownership of running his own offense, as he will with the Bucs.
“That’s ultimately what I wanted,” Coen said. “Not for ego. That’s what you dream of, right? For good or for bad, you want to take it. If it’s bad, it’s on me. To own it. If I have that from my boss, and my players start to feel that and they have it, that’s where you get real belief. … That’s what was really hard about ’22. It wasn’t mine.”
Coen’s first priority is building a staff, which could include keeping quarterbacks coach Thad Lewis and running backs coach Skip Peete, as well as tight ends coach John Van Dam, who’s also in consideration for the Bengals’ quarterbacks coach job. Finding a solid offensive line coach will go a long way toward improving the run game and the balance Coen seeks for his offense.
There are many reasons Coen was a match for the Bucs, but he caught a lucky break, in that Bowles was personally on hand for Kentucky’s games against Georgia in 2021 and 2023. Bowles’ son, Troy, was a recruit in 2021 and was a freshman linebacker for the Bulldogs this past season. Kentucky didn’t fare well in either game, losing 30-13 and 51-13, but they left an impression on Bowles against a defense that would win a national championship in 2021.
“We got pounded, but we played well,” Coen said. “We scored like the only touchdown in the first half against Georgia all year, and we actually kept it close for a while.”
There may be weeks of uncertainty relating to Mayfield, but chances are he’s back with the Bucs, and back with Coen, who is eager to see more of what he experienced in five weeks in 2022, bringing energy to a team that needed it.
“Baker, as you guys know, he’s an igniter,” Coen said. “That’s the type of guy you want to be around. He came into our organization at a really difficult time, a time that we weren’t having a lot of fun. He came in and made football fun for a lot of people at that time, made football competitive again at practice. … That was something we hadn’t felt in a little while. It was a tough year.
“The opportunity to be around him, potentially, every day, to coach a guy that’s as competitive as he is, that has that moxie, that’s fun. You can’t coach that. When a guy has that ability to communicate with others, that’s something I wanted to be around.”
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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