Let's celebrate Bruce Arians for winning games and blazing trails for minority coaches
With all the wild, rampant speculation as to why Bruce Arians stepped down as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this week, it seems the media and fans have forgotten something that is normal protocol when a Super Bowl-winning coach retires.
We forgot to celebrate him.
We forgot to commemorate him.
We forgot to say goodbye in a proper way.
So instead of speculating as to why the York High graduate is leaving as Tampa Bay’s coach, let us just be thankful that he ever became Tampa Bay’s coach in the first place.
Let us honor his legacy.
A legacy of winning and grinning.
A legacy of love and loyalty.
A legacy of inclusivity and diversity.
Thank you, Bruce Arians, for all you did for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL coaching profession.
Rumors and rumblings: Let us start with Tom Brady, who is now being portrayed as not only the quarterback of the team but the de facto general manager, ownership partner and, now, head coach, too. Because of the odd timing of Arians’ retirement (more than two months after the season ended) coming on the heels of Brady’s even odder unretirement, the rumors and rumblings are that Brady clandestinely choreographed Arians’ departure.
Believe what you want to believe about whether or not Brady forced Arians to walk the plank on the Buccaneers’ pirate ship, but make no mistake about this: Arians is the main reason Brady ever boarded the pirate ship.
Brady was enamored with Arians’ reputation as an offensive guru and quarterback whisperer; he loved Arians’ fearless “no risk it, no biscuit” passing philosophy; he was intrigued with Arians’ reputation as a personable players’ coach who relishes having a couple of celebratory cocktails with the team after victories. As Arians once said of his relationship with his players: “I’m not a father figure. I’m the cool uncle you’d like to have a drink with.”
Unlike the rigid, unbending, dictatorial Bill Belichick, Arians was willing to let Brady be Brady; have more input on the offense, the game plan and, yes, personnel matters. He even let Brady talk him into the signing of perpetual malcontent receiver Antonio Brown.
Arians took an obvious shot at Belichick in a conversation about Brady with NBC’s Peter King before the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2021.
“I allow Tom to be himself,” Arians said. “New England didn’t allow him to coach. I allow him to coach. I just sit back sometimes and watch.”
Don't underestimate Arians' contributions: Brady understandably gets the brunt of the credit for coming to Tampa and immediately leading the Bucs to their first playoff appearance in a dozen years and their first championship in two decades. But it’s not just coincidence that at the unprecedentedly advanced age of 44 years old, Brady is coming off two of his greatest statistical seasons. Don’t kid yourself, ol’ Buccaneer Bruce, the quarterback sage and offensive genius, has had much to do with Brady’s renaissance as one of the league’s elite passers.
The year before Brady came to Tampa, he completed 61% of his passes for 4,057 yards and 24 touchdowns with the Patriots. Last season with the Bucs, he completed 68% and led the league with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns.
Even though Arians was only Tampa Bay’s coach for three seasons, he has the highest winning percentage of any coach in Bucs history. Here’s all you need to know: Arians recorded five playoff victories with the Bucs in his three seasons; in the 43 years previous years before his arrival, the franchise had a total of just six playoff victories.
Blazing trails: And Arians didn’t just win games; be blazed trails in the process. In these politically, racially, sexually divisive times when the NFL’s hiring (or lack thereof) of minority coaches has been put under the microscope, Arians didn’t need a Rooney Rule to do the right thing. When he took over in Tampa Bay, the Bucs became the only team in the league with all-Black coordinators – offense, defense and special teams. Not only that, but the Bucs also became the first team with two full-time female assistant coaches,
“Inclusivity and diversity are great ways to teach,” Arians would say. “I mean, the more input you get from different types of voices, the better output you get. The first thing a player asks a coach is, ‘How are you gonna make me better?’ He doesn’t really care if the answer comes from a male or female, Black, white, brown, yellow, who[ever]; he just wants someone to help him get better. Coaches are just glorified teachers. The best teachers I had were all different races, all different ethnic groups, male and female. If you can teach, you can coach.”
One of the reasons Arians says he waited to retire is because he wanted to set up his hand-picked replacement — defensive coordinator Todd Bowles — for success. Bowles, who played for Arians at Temple and has coached with Arians on and off over the years, becomes one of the few Black men in NFL history to get a second chance as a head coach. Bowles was previously the head coach of the New York Jets from 2015-18, when he went 24-40.
Letting Bowles take over a Super Bowl contender: Arians says when Brady made the shocking decision to unretire a couple of weeks ago then his decision to retire became “easy.” With Brady and many other key players back from last year’s divisional-championship team, Arians knew Bowles would be taking over a Super Bowl contender.
“We’re in the best shape we’ve ever been,” Arians said. “There’s no better time to pass the torch then now. A number of people have asked, ‘Why are you stepping away from a chance to win another Super Bowl and go to the Hall of Fame?’ Because I don’t give a [expletive] about the Hall of Fame. Succession is way more important to me. This has been my dream for a long time. Guys that know me, they know I wanted one of my guys to take over. That’s more important to me than anything.”
So long, Bruce Arians.
Helluva coach: Whether or not Tom Brady had anything to with your departure will always be a source of debate, but there is no debate about this:
You were a helluva football coach, not to mention an amazing mentor and friend to your players and assistants.
The pirate ship won’t be the same without you as the captain.
As another great pirate, Jimmy Buffett, once sang:
“I wave bye bye,
I pray Godspeed,
I wish you lovely weather,
More luck than you’ll need.”