TAMPA, Fla. – Bruce Arians wanted to be around young people again. Retirement from coaching was nice and all – playing a lot of golf and working as a CBS Sports NFL analyst – but it wasn’t giving him the same feeling coaching gives him.
Who the heck wants to feel old?
Arians sure doesn’t, so despite myriad health issues over the years, the 66-year-old Arians opted to leave the golf course and take over as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“It’s good to be around young people,” Arians said. “I missed that.”
The Bucs are a team that hasn’t done much of anything since Jon Gruden won a Super Bowl in 2002. They’ve had five winning seasons since, two playoff appearances, no playoff victories and a dwindling fan base that once used to fill their stadium.
Yet it was the right place for Arians, who loves challenges and loves coaching with a chip on his shoulder. Tell him he can’t, and Arians wants to show you he can. He loved the idea of fixing the Bucs.
It helped that he was friendly with general manager Jason Licht and he was able to put together a staff made up of many coaches he’s been around in the past, many when he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2013 to 2017.
Among those coaches are defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and assistant head coach Harold Goodwin.
“When I don’t have to coach coaches, it’s a really fun game,” Arians said.
Arians is still a bit old school in the way he does things. That’s something he learned from the man whose portrait hangs in his office, legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant. He coached under Bryant early in his career, and some of that gruffness is evident on the practice field.
Yet Arians remains a coach who can relate to his players.
“He’s one of those coaches who can get on you quick, and also he can be a players’ coach,” Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. “It’s kind of different. With some people, you get one or the other. He can be both. That’s why I think a lot of guys respect him. We’re happy to have him as our head coach of this team.”
Arians is indeed old school in a lot of ways, yet he’s progressive in many others. All three of his coordinators are African-American. He has two women on his staff. He started a sports-science department with the Bucs. He hired former NFL official Larry Rose to be on his staff to help make replay decisions on game days.
So for every old-school “F-Bomb” he drops during practice – and they are plentiful – there is a lot of new-age stuff coming from Arians.
More observations from Bucs camp
- Bowles is re-uniting with Arians, who he was with in Arizona. Bowles was fired as head coach of the New York Jets last year after four seasons that netted a 24-40 record, but he is still considered one of the league’s best defensive minds. Bowles’ base system is a 3-4 scheme, but with so much nickel being played these days in the NFL, there are no more 3-4 or 4-3 fronts. They are basically six-man fronts with five defensive backs. But expect a lot of aggression in the Bucs scheme, with plenty of blitzing since they don’t have a dominant edge rusher. That means speed is imperative, and the Bucs will be fast – but young. “Coach Bowles is a simple guy,” veteran Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said. “He wants to allow you to play fast. Me and a lot of guys on this defense love the philosophy and love the foundation he wants to build on.” At 29, David is the second-longest tenured Bucs player and longest-tenured player on the defense. That tells you how young they are on that side of the ball. They are especially young in the secondary, but Arians loves the youth on the back end. “We will be fast,” he said. They will have to grow up quickly in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. Then again, the defense has nowhere to go but up. It was a unit that finished 32nd in the league least season. “Its been rough, no question about it, it’s been rough,” David said. David will start at inside linebacker next to first-round pick Devin White. He is a player who can fly like David, and he’s been impressive throughout the offseason and should be a star down the road. The problem is the edge rush. The Bucs are hoping Noah Spence, who impressed as a rookie in 2016 with 5.5 sacks, can get back that form in the new defense. He’s had one sack since that season, but he had done some good things rushing the passer early in camp. Arians is a little concerned about his ability to hold up in the run game. Another player to watch is rookie Anthony Nelson, who at 6-7 is an imposing edge player. The down players are solid with Ndamukong Suh, who signed as a free agent, playing next to Vita Vea. They will be stout against the run.
- Arians loves his skill players, starting with quarterback Jameis Winston. The two have a long history together and it’s a good working relationship. “He’s a workaholic,” Arians said of Winston. “The one thing is I have to do is slow him down sometimes. That’s one thing I love about him.” Winston has a great group of skill players, led by receiver Mike Evans. Add in Chris Godwin and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and you can expect big things from the passing game. But a player to really watch is free-agent pickup Breshad Perriman. The former Baltimore Ravens first-round pick busted there and resurrected his career with the Browns last year, but has caught the eye of many with the Bucs, including Arians. Arians raved about the ground he covers with his long stride and his ability to run away from defensive backs. Evans, the team’s best receiver, has trimmed down some and should be even quicker than in recent years. Evans said he cut back on some of his bad eating habits, but not all of them. “Trying to eat a little bit better, but still trying to enjoy life,” Evans said. “I definitely feel quicker. In this offense, I am going to have more opportunities to catch and run, so I am excited about that.”
- Running back Ronald Jones was a flop as a rookie second-round pick last season, but Arians is expecting big things in his offense from Jones, who appears to have added some weight and muscle. Jones and Peyton Barber are expected to compete for touches, but I would expect Jones to get the first shot as the primary runner. Jones had issues with playbook early last season, which limited him some. Arians doesn’t want to hear any talk about a lackluster run game. “We won’t have a sub-standard running game,” he said. “We’ll have a damn good one. Like I said, I like our backs. They’re the type of backs I like and we’re going to block and we’re going to commit to the running game, so we’ll have a good running game.”