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GOODALL: Hiring of York High grad Bruce Arians put struggling Bucs on path to Super Bowl

FRED GOODALL
The Associated Press
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians speaks with field judge Aaron Santi (50) during the second half of his team's NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

TAMPA, Fla. – It took five coaching changes over a decade-plus of futility before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got it right, luring Bruce Arians out of retirement.

Two seasons later, the 68-year-old quarterback expert has them in the Super Bowl.

Signing Tom Brady was a big part of solving the team’s woes. So, was the offense-minded Arians’ commitment to building a defense capable of giving him a realistic shot at transforming the Bucs from perennial losers into championship contenders.

The two-time NFL Coach of the Year with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals won two Super Bowl rings as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The York High graduate didn’t get his first full-time pro head coaching opportunity until he was 61.

Arians ended a five-year stint with the Cardinals citing health concerns in 2017, only to return to the sideline to take over the Bucs after a one-year hiatus.

“I couldn’t be happier for our players. They put in so much work, and our coaching staff has done such a great job,” Arians said after Sunday’s 31-26 victory over Green Bay in the NFC championship game. “Ownership gave us everything that we’ve needed, and I just couldn’t be any more elated for these guys and the job they put in.”

The first challenge was changing the culture of an organization that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007. The next was building on a strong nucleus of defensive talent and assembling an impressive group of playmakers that’s helped Brady’s transition to a new team after 20 record-setting seasons with the New England Patriots.

“There were times when I never thought it would happen, I never thought I would get a head coaching job,” Arians said. “After the cancer scare in Arizona, sitting out that year and coming back, this has been the most rewarding year of coaching in my life.”

Arians inherited a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in more than a decade and hadn’t won a postseason game since its 2002 Super Bowl championship run under Jon Gruden.

Gruden was fired six years later, followed first by Raheem Morris and then Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter before Arians got a crack at changing the franchise’s fortunes.

“I’m so happy for him, absolutely. It’s amazing,” said Brady, who’s in the Super Bowl for a record 10th time after going 6-3 in nine previous trips with the Patriots.

“For me, I don’t think about what it means for me. I do think about what it means for everyone else,” Brady added. “It’s an amazing achievement for B.A. I’m so happy for him and the staff he put together.”

That staff includes defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, a trio of Black assistants making NFL history under Arians. Tampa Bay ,is the first team to reach a Super Bowl with a staff featuring three Blacks serving as coordinators.

“It’s taken a lot of different people over the course of the season on offense, defense, special teams, to come through and that’s why we’re still playing,” Brady said. “Again, just an incredible journey for all of us. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”