TAMPA — Bruce Arians sits at the center of the table in the old Memorial Golf Course clubhouse, surrounded by his golf buddies, as his laughter echoes from the mahogany lockers that line the stately room .
He shortened his round by three holes this Tuesday afternoon as the muscles extending from his hip barked as a few cold rain drops began to fall. Arians likes to walk to his golf ball when he hits a nice drive, about 260 yards. But he was told there might be something in his lower back causing the pain and he was in no rush to get it checked. Surgery is not in his semi-retirement plans.
That’s why, after tearing just 9 percent of his Achilles tendon last season, he opted to wear orthotics in his shoes instead of going under the knife and nine months of rehab.
Wearing a black vest jacket and his signature flat cap, the 70-year-old former Bucs head coach typically spends Christmas Day in Arizona developing game plans and meeting with his staff to discuss a must-win game .
But being a senior advisor to general manager Jason Lichter has its perks, and Arians has always felt most comfortable telling his story during his 46 years as the coolest coach in football.
“Will I be a coach? Yes,” Arians says between sips of vodka tonics. “That’s what you do. It hurts me to go upstairs. I was on the sidelines before the game and it hurts me to have to go upstairs and sit there. It kills me. It’s hard (hard. That’s what I do) I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’m smart enough to know it’s over.
“It’s different. The day-to-day interaction with the players and the coaches, and the relationship I’m in. I sat down with Mike (Evans) and Veta (Vea) for an hour. The new guy was told, ‘That’s the old coach . You don’t want him cursing you. I just (cursed) a few of them.”
Arians stood on the sideline of the Superdome in September and started yelling at officials and the Saints’ Marson Lattimore for what he thought was a cornerback caught Pirates wide receiver Scottie Miller, it reminded him of a place where he didn’t belong.
Lattimore hit back at Arians, and an on-field altercation ensued, resulting in the ejection of Lattimore and Evans. The Buccaneers receivers were also suspended one game without pay.
The NFL sent a warning letter to the Arians and Bucs stating who was on the sidelines and expected behavior.
“I figured I’d sit behind the New Orleans media,” Arians said. “But I couldn’t keep quiet, so I said, ‘No, I’m going to stand on the sidelines.’
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“At home, I have my own box, or sit with scouts. I never thought I’d be sitting with my wife at a game.”
Arians will step down from his private sky suite at halftime of Sunday’s game against the Panthers to become the 14th person inducted into the Buccaneers’ ring of honor. The ceremony was supposed to take place during halftime of the Oct. 2 game against the Chiefs, but was postponed due to Hurricane Ian.
It’s a remarkable honor for Arians, who coached in just three seasons with Tampa Bay but won Super Bowl 55 in 2020 and the NFC South title last season, finishing in four seasons. Shooting back Tom Brady won the playoffs 5-1.
“In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined being in someone’s ring of honor,” Arians said. “They don’t have to.
“I know the (professional football) Hall of Fame is the ultimate. But it’s so slim it doesn’t mean anything to me. Everyone gets mad when I say that because I never dreamed it. I made this far dream.”
Arians’ brief but brilliant tenure as head coach of the Buccaneers has an incidental surrealism to it.
During his long career as an assistant coach, he served as an NFL head coach on several occasions. Arians held the top job on an interim basis at age 60 until he replaced Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who left the team while battling leukemia.
This led to his being hired as head coach of the Cardinals for five seasons, where he helped establish a career winning percentage of .624. He was named NFL Coach of the Year twice.
But a series of health issues — he’s a three-time cancer survivor — forced Arians out of coaching after the 2017 season. He was an announcer for CBS for a year, but he said the trip was murder.
When the Buccaneers called to ask if he was interested in coaching again, he wasn’t about to say yes. But then his former coaches and coordinators such as Todd Bowles, Byron Leftwich and Keith Armstrong were all suddenly fired, and he realized he could fill the entire team with “his men.”
Successfully recruiting Brady may be Arians’ greatest credit. While Licht has built a playoff-caliber roster, not every head coach can handle a celebrity quarterback.
Brady and Arians, 43, also weathering the global pandemic in his first season with the Buccaneers, overcame a bumpy 7-5 start to win eight straight games, including becoming the No. A team that won the Super Bowl at home was when the Buccaneers beat the Chiefs 31-9.
Both Arians and Brady bristled at the notion of any animosity between them, let alone the fact that their relationship was the reason Arians stepped down to allow Bowles to take over as head coach.
“(Arians) is fantastic. He’s a big reason why I’m here,” Brady said. “He’s just a great guy, he’s a great leader, he’s obviously a great coach, two-time coach of the year. But he’s in the Bucks’ ring of honor because he’s a A coach who won a Super Bowl, as he should have. It was an amazing year, and it was nice to be celebrated when you did something amazing.
“I have a great relationship with him. I can’t say enough about him and how I feel about him. I think we’ll be friends for a long time.”
Arians began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech, where he played quarterback. He says he’s moved 20 times, and his kids often aren’t better off for it.
“I moved my daughters who are in ninth, tenth and eleventh grade,” Arians said apologetically. “I did. The last time, when she was a senior, I moved to (Indianapolis) in her place. She graduated early.”
Arians’ son Jake was a kicker for the University of Alabama at Birmingham and played one season for the Bills, his entire athletic career his father regrets not seeing more of.
“That’s how I learned you weren’t coaching,” Arians said. “So when I got my guys, I told them, ‘If you miss a game or a recital, I’ll fire your ass.’ Those days are gone.”
Arians left 17 days after Brady’s 40-day retirement period ended.
He knows he can prepare Bowers and his entire coaching staff for the future. He also admitted he was concerned about his health.
In fact, in October, on the eve of a game against the Falcons, Arians had a pasta dinner with family and friends. He started experiencing chest pains, which he thought was indigestion, but was rushed to hospital. It turned out to be pericarditis, a swollen sac around the heart. He was treated with antibiotics and made a full recovery.
Wanting to be with his four grandchildren has become his top priority. He has a bracelet on each of his right wrists: granddaughters Presley, 27, and Briley, 13, and grandsons Arthur, 5, and Mills, 3.
“It’s big. I have so much fear that you’re going to die before you’re out of this game,” Arians said. “I decided to quit this game before I die. For the sake of the children, I need to stay.”
They’ll both be on the court with Arians when he’s inducted into the Ring of Honor on Sunday. Although his time as head coach may seem too short, the applause will be long.
“I really can’t put into words what it means,” he said. “The little thing about taking my grandkids to the ballpark to see that Corsair ship before the game. It’s always been a dream of mine to win the Super Bowl. The Glazers, they’re amazing. … About Tampa to me and I cannot say enough about the hugs from my family. It will always be home.
“It’s been a short journey, but what a journey!”
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