In 2019, Byron Leftwich turned Jameis Winston into a 5,000-yard passer. Then when Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers, Leftwich helped get Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl.
Despite that, Leftwich didn’t get a single head-coaching interview. Bruce Arians wasn’t happy about that.
“I was very, very pissed that Byron didn’t at least get an interview this year for the job that he’s done,” Arians told reporters.
Arians and Leftwich have a long history together, having overlapped for a time in Pittsburgh. It’s part of the reason Leftwich wound up as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator in Super Bowl 55, the most prominent role he’s had in the NFL since his tenure as Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback.
To figure out how Leftwich got to this point, we’ve taken a look back at his playing and coaching careers to trace the steps to the Super Bowl.
Byron Leftwich NFL highlights
Leftwich was a dominant college player at Marshall University in West Virginia. He finished second on the Thundering Herd’s all-time total offense list behind just Chad Pennington. That made him a hot commodity in the 2003 NFL Draft as a big, strong passer with a proven college track record.
The Ravens tried to trade up with the Vikings to take Leftwich in the first round, but somehow the trade didn’t go through in time and Minnesota’s pick clock ran out. The Jaguars, slated to pick eighth, wouldn’t have gotten Leftwich if the deal went through, but they instead took him as the seventh player off the board in 2003.
Leftwich took over as Jacksonville’s starter four games into his rookie season and started for each of the next four seasons, when healthy. In the first 11 games of his third season, 2005, Leftwich had the ninth-best passer rating in the NFL, but then he broke his ankle.
The 2006 season featured six more Leftwich starts for the Jaguars, his final six in Jacksonville. He concluded his Jags career with 51 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. David Garrad took over as the Jaguars’ starter, and Jacksonville cut Leftwich on the eve of the 2007 season.
From there, Leftwich joined the Falcons for one season, starting two games. Then he went to the Steelers in 2008, the Buccaneers in 2009 and back to Pittsburgh from 2010 through 2012. He earned a Super Bowl ring after the 2008 season when the Steelers beat the Cardinals, and he was Tampa Bay’s season-opening starter in 2009 before being benched for Josh Johnson.
Leftwich got one more start after leaving the Buccaneers, a Week 11 home game against the Ravens with Ben Roethlisberger out. Leftwich had a career-long rush of 31 yards for a touchdown early in that game, but it turned out he’d broken a rib on the play and wouldn’t play again in the NFL after finishing that game.
How Byron Leftwich’s Bruce Arians connection led to Buccaneers
Arians was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator from 2007-2011, meaning he spent three seasons (2008, 2010, 2011) with Leftwich on the roster. That gave him a chance to see Leftwich work.
No longer was Leftwich a starter, but his on-field prowess wouldn’t matter much in whether Arians eventually gave him a job. It’d be the meeting rooms and the veteran presence that Leftwich showed that could matter down the line.
Arians hired Leftwich as a coaching intern in 2016 in Arizona. Even in those early days, Arians said he believed Leftwich had a “great, bright future in coaching.”
Leftwich himself felt his playing career had prepared him to be a coach, mentioning that Arians probably saw that himself from their time together.
“I played the game as if I was a coach,” Leftwich said in 2017. “I never really had the physical ability to run around. I could throw the ball, but I had to think my way through the whole time. I think (Arians) understood that and appreciated my knowledge, how much work I put into the game.”
After his coaching intern stint, Leftwich spent portions of two seasons as the Cardinals’ quarterbacks coach before taking over as interim offensive coordinator in 2018. Arians took the Buccaneers job in 2019 after a year off, and he brought Leftwich over from the Cardinals as his offensive coordinator, even giving him the play-calling duties many expected Arians to keep.
“When I came back,” Arians said in 2019, “part of it was that to be a better head coach, I had to relinquish (play-calling). And there was only one person I would relinquish it to.”
In 2019, the Buccaneers ranked first in the NFL in passing yardage, and in 2020, Tampa Bay was fourth. Arians nailed that hire.
Byron Leftwich career timeline
2003 – Leftwich was taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Jaguars. He took over as starter four games in to his rookie year.
2004 – Leftwich’s first full season as a starter resulted in an 8-6 record for Jacksonville. He threw 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
2005 – The Jaguars started the season 8-3, and Leftwich had improved to 15 TDs with only five picks. Then he broke his ankle and missed the rest of the year.
2006 – Leftwich started six games in his final Jaguars season, losing the job to David Garrard.
2007 – The Falcons signed Leftwich in September after the Jaguars cut him. He started two games in his lone season in Atlanta.
2008 – Leftwich saw time in five games with the Steelers, and Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl after the season by defeating the Cardinals.
2009 – The Buccaneers signed Leftwich to be their starter, but after an 0-3 start, Josh Johnson was inserted and Leftwich didn’t play for Tampa Bay again.
2010 – Leftwich began a three-year tenure with Pittsburgh to close his NFL career. He started one game in 2012.
2016 – The Cardinals, led by Bruce Arians, hire Leftwich as a coaching intern.
2017 – Leftwich takes over as the quarterbacks coach for Arizona.
2018 – Midway through the season, Leftwich is named interim offensive coordinator for the Cardinals.
2019 – After Arians returned to coaching following a year hiatus, he hired Leftwich as the Buccaneers offensive coordinator and gave him play-calling duties.