TAMPA, Fla. — Bruce Arians didn’t give much thought to the prospect of opting out of trying to help Tom Brady win a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 67-year-old whose aggressive offensive philosophy is dubbed “no risk it, no biscuit” is one of the oldest head coaches in the NFL, as well as a cancer survivor who once retired because of health concerns.
He’s among millions in a category considered vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, yet he’s eager to work through the pandemic. With a goal of helping Brady and a mostly young Buccaneers roster end the league’s second-longest playoff drought and hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
At 68, Seattle’s Pete Carroll and New England’s Bill Belichick are the only head coaches who are older.
“There was never a doubt I was going to coach, especially once I’d seen the protocols in place,” Arians said Tuesday, adding he plans to wear a mask and shield on the field and “coach like I’ve always coached.”
“Whether it was Tom or whoever the quarterback would be, I’m going to get excited. I really like our ballclub and hope – knock on wood – we can stay healthy and do the things we want to do,” Arians added. “Having Tom adds to the excitement, obviously, but I would have been all in either way.”
The Bucs as an organization have the second-worst winning percentage of any franchise among the four major professional sports. They haven’t made the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons and haven’t won a postseason game since their 2002 Super Bowl-winning run.
With Brady replacing talented but mistake-prone Jameis Winston at quarterback, expectations are soaring.
There’s a lot of work to be done, especially with teams unable to conduct OTAs and offseason conditioning programs due to the pandemic.
“You would hope we would have had spring practice, so all of them – especially the younger players – could get over the awe of Tom Brady walking into the locker. But we’ll get through that, I think, within a week,” Arians said.
Brady, who turns 43 next Monday, signed a two-year, fully guaranteed $50 million contract in free agency after appearing in nine Super Bowls – winning six – over 20 seasons with the Patriots.
The Bucs also added the quarterback’s favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, to an already exceptional group of receivers and tight ends. Tampa Bay reinforced a commitment to help Brady be successful by drafting offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs and retaining three key members of an emerging defense.
Arians regards placing the franchise tag on NFL sacks leader Shaquil Barrett, as well as re-signing linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and tackle Ndamukong Suh, as just as important to Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl aspirations as snaring Brady.
The Bucs led the NFL in passing offense in 2019. However, Winston became the first player in NFL history to toss at least 30 touchdown passes (33) and 30 interceptions while leading the league with 35 turnovers overall.
Seven of Winston’s interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
That made the job of a defense, which improved steadily down the stretch of a 7-9 finish, so much more difficult.
Brady, meanwhile, is one of the best ever at protecting the ball. His 1.79 interception rate ranks second all-time behind Aaron Rodgers among quarterbacks with at least 2,500 career passing attempts. The four-time Super Bowl MVP is coming off arguably his worst non-injury season, yet still helped the Patriots win 12 games while throwing for more than 4,000 yards, 24 TDs and eight interceptions.
“When he walks into huddle, it’s different. This guy has got six rings. He knows what he’s doing,” Arians said. “There’s going to be a ton of confidence in him, not only on offense. Our defense is going to feel the same way.”
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who played quarterback for four teams during a nine-year NFL career, also relishes the opportunity to work with Brady. The 40-year-old Leftwich was the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He won a Super Bowl ring as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup in Pittsburgh.
“Me and him talk a lot about the old days … things that are still relevant in this league,” the offensive coordinator said this spring. “You’re never really on Football 101 when you have Tom. You have a guy that’s been there, seen it all.”
Leftwich has no doubts that Brady and Arians’ offense will be a good fit.
“Realistically, we’re all kind of running the same plays. It’s when we call them and how we’re trying to attack that’s different,” Leftwich said. “There’s not a play he hasn’t heard of. There’s not a play he hasn’t (run). Now we just need to figure out what he does well and make sure we run a lot more of those plays on Sunday than not.”
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