Bruce Arians: ‘The coolest damn coach in the NFL’

The Bucs know something about introducing new head football coaches, but Bucco Bruce commanded the stage like none since Jon Gruden.
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians speaks during an introductory press conference at One Buc Place on January 10, 2019 in Tampa, Fla. Arians is the 12th head coach in franchise history. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians speaks during an introductory press conference at One Buc Place on January 10, 2019 in Tampa, Fla. Arians is the 12th head coach in franchise history. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published January 10
Updated January 10

TAMPA — The Bucs know how to fire, and especially hire, head coaches.

Five times since 2009 they have welcomed one aboard with all the pomp and bad circumstance still hovering from a losing season.

First comes the declaration of a new direction from co-chairman Bryan Glazer, as if some NFL Magellan had arrived to point the Bucs to a new land.

Then comes tales of an exhaustive coaching search that usually produces the obvious hire.

No matter where the Bucs are in the standings, it's hard to lose the news conference. Raheem Morris almost did. At 32, he had never even been a coordinator and talked about being his best self.

Greg Schiano was right out of central casting, the barrel-chested disciplinarian ready to drive the Bucs down My Way Highway.

Lovie Smith was the prodigal son coming home, refreshed from a year away from football with a vacation story of battling howler monkeys in Costa Rica.

Dirk Koetter shed a tear for his parents watching in Idaho.

But not since Jon Gruden have the Bucs welcomed a head coach with as much swagger as the one general manager Jason Licht presented Thursday.

"I want to introduce Bruce Arians,'' Licht said, "the coolest damn coach in the NFL.''

Arians was all that and more for the Bucs on Thursday. At 66, from his newsboy hat and Oakley horn-rimmed glasses to his black leather, white-soled shoes, the former Cardinals head coach commanded the auditorium at the AventHealth Training Center, which was filled with media, employees, a few former players and even former coach Tony Dungy.

The message was nearly as believable as the messenger.

"There's three keys to winning in this league,'' Arians began. "Ownership, general manager-head coach combination. Then when you have a quarterback, you got a pretty good start.''

Arians retired from coaching after the Cardinals finished 8-8 in 2017. But working for CBS this season, he said, he got the itch again to coach about Week 8.

"After about eight games of broadcasting and going to practice and watching each team do it … I almost stepped out on the field in Houston and corrected Tyrann Mathieu,'' Arians said. "I was like, 'Whoa. That's not my team.' Yeah, that started a fire again.''

Arians made few promises but did raise eyebrows with a couple of declarations.

One of them: Jameis Winston is the starting quarterback.

"No pressure. No pressure whatsoever,'' Arians said of Winston, who is in the final year of his rookie contract. "I want him to relax and play the game. Talent is no issue. It's just becoming a little bit smarter. With Clyde Christensen as his quarterbacks coach and Byron Leftwich (as offensive coordinator), he's going to be coached as well as he's ever been and more prepared than he's ever been fundamentally and mentally.

"So it's his team.''

Later, Arians told reporters that he didn't like the back-and-forth starts between Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick this season.

"I think sometimes they were both looking over their shoulder,'' Arians said. "One would do well one week, then he would struggle, and put the other one back in. That's not me. We've got a guy; he's our guy. Hopefully we can get that room extremely competitive behind Jameis so that we can win without him if something happens.''

Arians has known Winston since the quarterback attended his football camp in Birmingham, Ala., when Winston was in middle school. Five players from that camp are in the NFL, Arians said.

Arians is known as the quarterback whisperer, but he's not afraid to scream at them, either.

He gets close to quarterbacks, including Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.

"I probably got fired for one of them because we were too close,'' Arians said of Big Ben. "They become my sons. I am very interested in what they are doing off the field, on the field. There has to be a level of trust between a head coach and a play-caller and a quarterback. You can't tell me what you think. You have to tell me what you really saw. And don't worry about the answer. Just give me the truth and work. I think that goes with every position, really, but especially the quarterback.''

In his "No risk it, No biscuit,' philosophy, Arians said he can tolerate some of Winston's penchant for throwing interceptions.

"One,'' he said. "You're not going to win throwing three.''

The more Arians spoke, the more it became apparent that he may not have taken the job had so many of his former assistants not been available to join the Bucs staff. That list includes former Jets coach Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, assistant head coach-running game coordinator Harold Goodwin and special teams coach Keith Armstrong.

Leftwich, who quarterbacked the Bucs to an 0-3 start under Morris in 2009, will call the plays.

"(Arians') passion for Jameis, his feelings for Jameis are real and always have been, and that's important,'' Licht said. "A quarterback and a head coach who really admire each other, it helps the process.''

Arians made it clear he thinks the Bucs are close to winning. "I'm about building,'' he said. "I'm about reloading.''

So are the Bucs. No coach has lasted more than three seasons since Gruden.

"I spent the last couple days trying to think of a word that explains how honored I am to help introduce (Arians and his wife, Christine) to Tampa,'' Licht said. "And I guess it's just frickin' excited.''
That will do it.

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

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