The Bruce Arians hire is wonderful, shrewd, exciting — so long as …..

If you believe Jameis Winston will be a star and the Bucs are closer to contention than they appear, Bruce Arians makes perfect sense for Tampa Bay.
Greg Schiano, left, shakes hands with Bruce Arians, right, after the Arizona Cardinals' 13-10 victory at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 29, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Greg Schiano, left, shakes hands with Bruce Arians, right, after the Arizona Cardinals' 13-10 victory at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 29, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
Published January 8
Updated January 8

Absolutely wonderful hire, this Bruce Arians.

So long as you believe Jameis Winston is destined to be a star.

You see, that's a prerequisite for this move to make sense.  Part of his appeal is the work he did in Indianapolis when Arians welcomed a 22-year-old Peyton Manning to town, and had him in the Pro Bowl the following year. Not to mention his days in Pittsburgh, where Arians' first season as offensive coordinator was also Ben Roethlisberger's first season in the Pro Bowl.

So if there is magic in Winston's DNA, chances are Arians will find it. If it is at all possible, he will help Winston cut down on turnovers, show him how to throw a deep ball and teach him to manage a game.

That's what Arians does, that's what Bucs officials are counting on.

But what if they're wrong about Winston?

Some years ago, in the quiet between Manning and Roethlisberger, Arians was brought to Cleveland to tutor another underachieving No. 1 pick. Just like Winston.

For three years, Arians coached, prodded, and sat in darkened video rooms with Tim Couch. Forty-eight games later, Arians was fired as offensive coordinator and Couch never threw another NFL completion.

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Undeniably shrewd hire, this Bruce Arians.

So long as you're convinced he can buck the odds.

It's true, Arians is one of the most accomplished coaches on the open market. Talk about Mike McCarthy all you want, but he's never seemed interested in Winston or Tampa Bay. And maybe John Harbaugh could be pried loose from Baltimore, but compensation would have to be worked out.

Arians, on the other hand, is like finding lost gold. His .635 career winning percentage as a head coach is better than McCarthy and Harbaugh. Better than Sean Payton, Andy Reid and Pete Carroll.

He spent five years with the Cardinals and averaged just under 10 wins a year. He is Arizona's all-time leader in coaching victories, and winning percentage too.

But there is a caveat.

NFL teams do not typically hire coaches to take over a franchise at age 66. Oh, occasionally, a Marv Levy or a Tom Coughlin will still be coaching in their late 60s, or even beyond. But those are guys who were already ensconced in a job. Starting over at 66? You just don't see that.

Dick Vermeil was 64 when he took over the Chiefs in 2001. He stayed five years, had two winning seasons and never won a playoff game. Ted Marchibroda was 65 when he took over the Ravens and went 16-35-1. Joe Gibbs had a .674 winning percentage with three Super Bowls as a younger man, but went 30-34 after returning to Washington at 64.

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Terrific hire, this Bruce Arians.

So long as you think the Bucs are closer than they appear.

Because this guy is a winner. No disputing that. His first three years in Arizona, his teams were tied for the second-best record in the NFC. How long has it been since Tampa Bay has seen anything like that?

With a defense put together by Todd Bowles, it wasn't unusual to see the Cardinals in the league's top 10 in points allowed. In fact, Arizona's defense was better than the offense during much of Arians' tenure.

Of course, it helped that the defense already had some talent on the roster when Arians arrived. Seven-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, for instance. Three-time Pro Bowl selection Calais Campbell was also just entering his prime. Darnell Dockett was still there, and John Abraham was just arriving.

Perhaps the Bucs are also poised to make that kind of leap on defense. Maybe, while finishing in the bottom half of the NFL in scoring defense for seven of the past eight seasons, they have been stockpiling undervalued talent. And perhaps last season's 31st ranked defense needs only a nudge in the right direction.

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Exciting hire, this Bruce Arians.

So long as you're willing to forget about the future.

That's what this move feels like. A gamble. A hurry-up-and-win proposition. If you think Tampa Bay is a few turnovers away from making the playoffs, then Arians is the right choice to step on the pedal.

He'll polish up Winston's rough edges, and he'll bring a cocky nature to a lifeless roster.

But if Bucs ownership is wrong about Winston, about the talent level, about general manager Jason Licht's plea that there is no reason to overhaul, then hiring Arians is a waste of time.

They'd be better off handing the locker room to someone who could build from the ground up. Build a roster that could last.

In some ways, this feels like all those years when the Bucs were spinning their wheels under Jon Gruden. He always wanted to win now, and worry about tomorrow later.

But, hey, Gruden did deliver a Super Bowl in his first season.

Your turn, Bruce Arians.

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes

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