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TAMPA — York High graduate Bruce Arians could fix quarterback Jameis Winston and would love to work with general manager Jason Licht.

For those reasons, the former Arizona Cardinals head coach has been the favorite to land the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching job. He took a big step in that direction Saturday when he interviewed for the position.

Arians, 67, is the only known former NFL head coach to meet with the Bucs since they fired Dirk Koetter after three seasons last Sunday.

Licht interviewed Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Wednesday and Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on Friday. The Bucs were scheduled to meet with Dallas Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard on Sunday. None of those candidates, however, have ever been head coaches, nor do they check as many boxes for the Bucs as Arians.

Start with the fact that Arians has known Winston since the Bucs quarterback attended his football camp in Birmingham, Alabama, when he was a kid. Licht and Arians worked together at Arizona when Licht was the Cardinals' vice president of player personnel.

Most importantly, Arians has a reputation as a bit of a quarterback whisperer. Arians has worked with quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.

Ironically, two of Winston's worst defeats came to the Cardinals under Arians. In 2016, the Bucs lost at Arizona 40-7 when Winston went 27 of 52 for 243 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.Two years ago, the Bucs fell at Arizona 38-33. Winston went only 5 of 10 passing for 61 yards before having to leave the game after injuring his right shoulder after being hit by Chandler Jones.

Arians retired as the Cardinals head coach after the 2017 season and last season worked as a broadcaster. He had said recently the only job he would consider was the Cleveland Browns, but amended that to say he would be open to talk to Licht about the Bucs head coaching position.

Furthermore, there is speculation that Arians would bring former Jets head coach Todd Bowles as his defensive coordinator. The Bucs also would likely retain defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, who is under contract for another year and worked with Arians in Arizona.

What's unknown is if the Bucs would have to give compensation in the form of a draft pick to Arizona if they hire Arians. The Cardinals had a club option on Arians' contract for 2019.

Richard had three interviews scheduled for Sunday following the Cowboys wild-card playoff game against Seattle. But it sure feels like this thing is wrapping up quickly and Arians is, and always has been, the front runner.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud

 

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