Tampa Bay hoping 25-year NFL veteran can reverse franchise’s fortunes
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has been around the football block.
Introduced as the franchise’s 12th head coach last week after a year away from the sideline as a CBS color commentator for NFL games, Arians has spent 25 seasons coaching at the game’s highest level following a collegiate coaching career that started in 1975. Along the way were two stops each at Alabama and Mississippi State, which included one stint as offensive coordinator at each school.
His first full-time coaching job was as Mississippi State’s running backs and wide receivers coach from 1978-1980 before moving to Alabama to coach “Bear” Bryant’s precious running backs in 1981-1982. He left Tuscaloosa to take the head job at Temple from 1983-1988 (compiling a 27-39 record over six seasons) before returning to Starkville as offensive coordinator from 1993-1995 and to Tuscaloosa in the same capacity in 1997.
After he left that job, he settled into the NFL as a valued assistant, a noted “quarterback whisperer” and two-time Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals. In all, the NFL teams he has been associated with in that quarter century of coaching have posted a record of 238-153-2 (a .598 winning percentage) and 15 made the playoffs.
After going the college or coordinator route with each of their last four hires—Dirk Koetter, Lovie Smith, Greg Schiano and Raheem Morris—the Buccaneer brass decided it was time to go back and see what someone with NFL head coaching experience could do.
“We wanted somebody with a proven track record, not just as a coach, but also developing players and developing coaches—Bruce checks that,” Bucs General Manager Jason Licht said. “We wanted somebody that was going to bring swagger like those late ‘90s teams here in Tampa. The early 2000s Super Bowl team was full of swagger. Bruce checks that.
“Last but not least, it’s just that ‘it’ factor that you really can’t explain. But anybody that’s around Bruce knows that Bruce has ‘it.’ I’ve never been around a guy that has such magnetism about him that players and coaches just instantly want to follow when he comes.”
The Bucs hope Arians can turn around a sagging franchise, which seeks to end an 11-year playoff drought, as quickly and competently as he did the Arizona Cardinals he coached for five years before retiring after the 2017 season. The circumstances going in are eerily similar.
When the Cardinals hired him in 2013, he took over a team that had gone 5-11 the previous season and had won a total of 18 games over the previous three. As the new Bucs coach, he takes over a team that just went 5-11 and has won only 19 over its last three. The turnaround was immediate with Arizona—10-6 in 2013, 11-5 and a playoff appearance in 2014, and 13-3 and a playoff win in 2015 before losing in the NFC Championship Game. Arians expects the same kind of quick turnaround in Tampa.
“This is a great group,” he said in his introduction. “I think we have the core here to win quickly. I’m not about [re]building, I’m about reloading.”
The Bucs also hope Arians can be the key to finally unlocking the huge talent that QB Jameis Winston has yet to fully display at the pro level. They base this hope on Arians’ previous success with such NFL superstars as Peyton Manning (Arians’ was his first NFL quarterback coach with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998), Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer. Manning made the Pro Bowl in two of his seasons under Arians, Roethlisberger recorded a passer rating of 97.0 or higher in three of Arians’ five season as his OC, and Palmer led Arizona to a franchise record for wins in 2015—thus the title “quarterback whisperer.”
Arians has a favorite saying, a motto if you will, that goes, “No risk it, no biscuit.” Like the guy who tries to hit every Par 5 in two and puts a lot of balls in the water as a result, Arians says the success comes in going for it all.
“I want to reach for greatness,” Arians said. “It’s just the way I’ve lived my life. Probably way too many risk its, but we got a few biscuits, too.”
Arians is most appreciative that the Bucs decided to buck the trend of hiring the next young hotshot out there. That they decided to risk it and go with an older guy with experience. He believes they are going to find out what he already knows.
“I hope that…it’s going to be a trend to bring us back,” said Arians, who is 66. “Experience matters in this league.”
That’s something he has plenty of to share. H&A
Cover photo courtesy Tampa Bay Buccaneers