A little over two years ago, the coaching ability of Todd Bowles was questioned, doubted and ridiculed by many people.
Bowles had just been fired by the Jets after four seasons as the team’s head coach, during which the team did more losing than winning. He went 24-40, including losing records in each of his final three seasons.
Now, Bowles has answered his critics. He is the Buccaneers defensive coordinator, leading a defense that has beaten Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers on its way to Super Bowl 2021 to face the Chiefs on Sunday.
It would be easy for Bowles to say, “told you so” to those who raked him over the coals here, but that is not Bowles’ style.
“I don’t feel any redemption,” Bowles said in a phone interview with The Post. “I’m harder on myself than anybody. When you don’t win games, you get the criticism. In this sport, there’s going to be ups and downs. You’ve got to stay the course and stay who you are. You trust your coaching and the people that taught you. I stuck with that, and everything has worked out for me.”
It also has worked out for the Buccaneers. In his second season in Tampa Bay with his mentor Bruce Arians, Bowles had his defense rolling this season. The Bucs were No. 6 in yards allowed, No. 8 in scoring defense and No. 1 against the run. Bowles has a nice blend of veterans and young players that have been the perfect complement to Tom Brady and the offense. In the playoffs, Bowles has had to match wits with Brees and Rodgers. Now, he gets Patrick Mahomes.
“If we win, we have faced the best of the best. It’s one after the other,” Bowles said. “Every week, it’s a challenge. They’re all great quarterbacks, Hall of Fame quarterbacks. It says a lot about the guys on this team that have just shown up and played every week. We got two. We’re going to try to get the next one.”
Bowles and the Buccaneers know all too well what the Chiefs offense is capable of. Kansas City beat Tampa Bay, 27-24, on Nov. 29. Mahomes threw for 462 yards and three touchdowns and Tyreek Hill had 13 catches for 269 yards and three touchdowns.
“It’s a nightmare,” Bowles said of preparing for Kansas City. “They’ve got a lot of talent. They’ve got a lot of speed. We played bad due to the fact that those guys made us look bad. We didn’t play well in that game. They give you problems all the way around for four quarters. We have to be at our best.”
Bowles, 57, is chasing his third Super Bowl ring. He won one as a player with Washington in 1987 and one as part of the Packers’ personnel department in 1996. He began his coaching career in 1997 and has spent the past 22 seasons in the NFL, hoping to reach the Super Bowl.
Bowles did not want to talk specifically about his time at the Jets, but said he values the relationships he made while he was coaching the team. Bowles was a beloved figure inside the organization, someone impossible to dislike. There are many people inside the Jets organization pulling for him.
“It was a learning experience,” Bowles said. “It made me a better coach coming from New York. I’m close with a lot of people in that building. There are a lot of great people up there.”
The Jets went 10-6, 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12 in Bowles’ four seasons. He drew a lot of criticism, but there was always a debate about how much blame he deserved and how much went to the front office for not acquiring enough talent for him. Bowles said he never doubted himself.
“I didn’t. I really didn’t. I knew I was a good coach,” Bowles said. “I’ll look back at that stuff when I retire. I’ll look back and see what everything is. During the journey, you just keep marching forward.”
During this hiring cycle, Bowles interviewed with the Falcons and Eagles for their head-coaching vacancies. After his time with the Jets, Bowles has said he will be picky about another head-coaching job.
“If the opportunity is right, it will come up,” Bowles said. “I just want to be the best coach I can be. I would love to have that opportunity again, but right now I’m very happy going to the Super Bowl as a defensive coordinator.”