Bruce Arians proved once before that refusing to hire a head coach based on the accumulated dust of a few decades is foolish. There’s a good chance he can do it again.
Seemingly immune to politics and the typical procedures of the NFL, Arians’ hiring cycle was a bit unconventional this time around. We knew of his interest to return to coaching through some media interviews. It started like a script that develops after a few beers and ultimately vanishes in the morning. Yet, here he is, almost all the way down the aisle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The main trepidation seems to stem from his age, and the health problems that dotted his previous tenure with the Cardinals. At 66, how long can a team that needs a long-haul gutting reasonably keep him around? I’ll argue that they didn’t follow his Cardinals teams closely enough.
Tampa Bay has been cultureless since the days of Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden. It has been years since the arrival of their team into your stadium meant something. From a bird’s eye view, they are the picture of the league’s typical cycle of mediocrity: Lose, draft a few transcendent players, marginally improve, panic-sign a ton of free agents to overcompensate, lose with those expensive free agents, and return to phase one again with a new head coach. The opposite could be said of Arizona from 2013-2017, despite some of their struggles to replenish the talent pool through the draft.
Arians can change that in Tampa. He’ll likely bring some loyal assistants with him (former Jets head coach Todd Bowles is available, as is his former offensive coordinator, Harold Goodwin, and quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich). And he’ll continue what he started doing in Arizona better than any other head coach in the NFL: Empower and rapidly develop coaching talent in his pipeline. These are good coaches who can exist in the league and take over long after Arians has decided to retire again.
Leftwich took over a broken offense and salvaged part of the Cardinals’ latter season in 2018. Goodwin interviewed for head coaching jobs before the Arians regime broke down in 2017, when Arians announced his retirement. Both of them could be future head coaches in the NFL. Arians also promoted James Bettcher, who was very close to succeeding him in Arizona, and remains an interesting name in head coaching circles despite the Giants’ lack of success in 2018.
But keep in mind, all that is merely to calm those psychotic enough to look beyond a two-year window at all. Your concerns about Arians may never come to fruition, as two years roughly marks the limit of our patience anyway. That’s about the most time we’ll give a new head coach, and if he’s not Bill Belichick, we advocate tossing him to the curb. In two years, Arians will make the Buccaneers’ offense consistently functional again. He’s the best chance they have to salvage Jameis Winston. While he wouldn’t take the job without a best-case succession plan for the future, which is what so many are worried about, he can be critical for the present with no strings attached. That’s good enough for the Buccaneers.