Is Bruce Arians the Bucs’ Joe Maddon?

The Bucs new head coach will remind you a lot of the old Rays skipper.
Bruce Arians greets former Buccaneer Dexter Jackson  after a 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
Bruce Arians greets former Buccaneer Dexter Jackson after a 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 11

TAMPA — Start with the eyewear, the horn-rimmed glasses. You know he is a man of vision.

Then there is the white goatee. He has a passion for fashion, style and swagger.

He's from a small, blue-collar eastern Pennsylvania town that is a cultural melting pot. A man of the streets who is as comfortable in the barroom as the boardroom.

On the field, he is a non-conformist, a contrarian. He colors outside the painted white lines.

You may not know new Bucs coach Bruce Arians. But you have met him before.

Arians is the closest thing the NFL has to Joe Maddon.

They play from the same sheet of music, as the former Rays manager would say.

"When I look at him and talk to him I think, did we grow up together?'' said Maddon, about to enter his fifth season as the Chicago Cubs manager.

"Was I not aware that we were best friends and I just didn't remember? I'm sitting there wondering is there something in the water when you grow up in that neck of the woods that do you just react the same way internally to certain situations.

"It's really odd, but we really do. We think a lot alike.''

Last Friday, as Arians, 66, arrived from his lake house in Georgia to interview with the Bucs, Maddon, 64, sneaked him in through the kitchen of Ava, the south Tampa restaurant Maddon co-owns with Michael Stewart. They went past the bar and into a private hideaway dining room. It was just the two of them for an hour, talking about their philosophies until they were joined by Bucs general manager Jason Licht and director of operations Mike Greenberg.

"I had already convinced myself,'' Arians said Thursday at One Buc Place during his introduction as Tampa Bay's 12th head coach. "But we're old friends. We grew up fairly close to each other and Jason actually introduced us a few years back and we really hit it off together. So it was more break bread, have fun and I didn't need any more convincing.''

Maddon didn't mind giving Arians a scouting report on his adoptive home town.

"We just talked. I was not trying to sell him on the job or anything,'' Maddon said. "I just told him how much I loved the area, about living in John McKay's house, riding my bike on Bayshore and all the places to hang out in South Tampa.

"I always sell Tampa Bay.''

Maddon met Arians in his first spring training with the Cubs in Arizona four years ago.

They grew up about 100 miles apart. Maddon is from Hazleton, Pa., a coal town two hours northwest of Philadelphia. And Arians lived in York, where his father worked for the Caterpillar.

Arians was an exceptional athlete, a quarterback who signed with Virginia Tech.

Maddon played quarterback as well and was known as Broad Steet Joe, an ode to one of the main thoroughfares in his hometown. He was recruited by schools like Penn and the Naval Academy, where he received a letter from Roger Staubach trying to get him to come there. But he stayed closer to home, accepting a football scholarship to Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.

"Bruce told me growing up, his favorite sport was probably baseball,'' Maddon said.

Maddon left the football team to concentrate on baseball and in 1975, left school to sign with the Angels as an undrafted free agent.

Both took a long time to finally get their respective chance as a Major League Baseball manager and NFL head coach. Maddon spent 31 years in the minors as a player, scout, minor league manager and finally major league bench coach.

Arians began in 1975 as a grad assistant at Virginia Tech. He became the head coach at Temple, worked for Bear Bryant at Alabama and had stops in the NFL from the Chiefs, Saints, Colts, Browns and Steelers. His big break came as an interim coach for the Colts after Chuck Pagano left the team to treat leukemia. Arians went 9-3 and was named NFL Coach of the Year.

After 38 years in coaching, that led to his first head coaching job with the Cardinals at age 61. Maddon was named the Rays skipper at 52.

"Oh yeah, Hazelton and our coaching styles and we share a lot of philosophies,'' said Arians, referring to Maddon by his hometown. "He likes sayings a little bit more than me and we've shared a couple.''

What about snakes in the locker room?

"No, no snakes,'' Arians said.

The food and the drinks kept coming to the table Friday.

"Joe gave me everything,'' Arians said. "Pizza, pasta, salad. And a lot of cocktails. It was unbelievable.''

The discussion turned to their aggressive approach. Arian's catchphrase is "No risk it, no biscuit." Maddon prefers "fortune favors the bold.''

Arians likes to push the football downfield. Third-and-1? He may empty the backfield and run five streak routes. Maddon has called for an intentional walk with the bases loaded rather than let the opponent's best hitter clear them.

"I talked to him about that and I love the fearless approach,'' Maddon said. "I think fearlessness is necessary as a head coach or manager and in the process of hiring coaches, I really like to identify that fearless component in that person because I know it's going to allow them to think for themselves. Courage is what permits all the other qualities of an individual to be successful. If you don't have that, those qualities may not thrive.

"We're there for an few hours talking about exactly that. Talking about being bold. He's talking football and I'm talking baseball with runners on first and third or third base and less than two outs. How you get your team to function in these high risk situations. He drips with fearlessness.''

Arians described it this way: "I try to hit every par 5 in two and I put a lot of balls in the water,'' he said. "But if you don't try to hit it, you're never going to hit it. And I want you to reach for greatness and if you don't reach for greatness, you'll be average the rest of your life.

"It's just the way I've lived my life. Probably way too many risk-its but I got a few biscuits.''

Maybe that's what it takes to be put in command of franchises with little winning history and make them chic and relevant.

At 66, Arians is the oldest NFL coach in the last 20 years to start a new head coaching job.

But like Joe Cool, he has a confidence and ease about him that enables Arians to relate to any generation of players.

"Absolutely. I think it's his authenticity and how real he is,'' Maddon said. "I think if you're real, it can be translated through generations and people relate whether you're a Boomer, or Gen Xer of millennial, people identify with authenticity. This is what I've done and what I believe.

"Bruce Arians is authentic.''

But maybe not one of a kind.

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

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