Walking away, Bruce Arians leads by example.
The Super Bowl-winning coach is stepping down as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so that longtime friend and highly skilled defensive coordinator Todd Bowles can have his chance to lead a successful team.
“I wanted to make sure that when I left, Todd Bowles would have the best chance of succeeding,” Arians said in a statement late Wednesday. “So many head coaches find themselves in situations where they’re ready to fail, and I didn’t want that for Todd.”
Arians has long been an ally of black people and minorities. As a starting quarterback at Virginia Tech in the 1960s, he became the first white player to have a black roommate. He is a champion of diversity in the NFL coaching ranks, adding women to his team and having three black coordinators on his team.
As well as any white coach in the NFL, Arians has known the struggle and plight of black football coaching. That’s, in part, why I think he took the unusual step of stepping back from training until March 30.
Leaving now not only ensures Bowles gets the job, but also a great job. Very often, NFL coaches become the head coaches of bad teams. That’s probably why the job was open in the first place. As we know, black coaches rarely get head coaching jobs. The ones they make usually stink worse than the others that are available.
What if you’re a former black head coach like Bowles? Good luck getting that second gig. Only seven other black men have served as permanent head coaches of at least two NFL franchises in their careers.
Bowles’ first crack in training was a failure. His New York Jets went 24-40 in his four years there, and they were marred by poor free agency decisions, worse draft picks and inconsistent quarterback play. I spoke with him during the 2020 season about how he wouldn’t jump at the next opportunity just to be a head coach again.
“I think the situation has to be good and you go from there. If the situation isn’t good…if it’s not a game, I won’t take it to take it,” Bowles said then. “The first time, probably, because you really want to be a head coach and do good and save the world. But after going through it with experience and you know the situations have to be right for you to be successful anywhere. , and obviously you’ve brought a lot to the table. But they also have to bring something to the table. And if it’s not a match, then it’s just not a match.
The decision to install Bowles, the fourth black head coach in Buccaneers history, comes as the NFL continues its decades-long battle with diversity in its head coaching ranks. Just this week, the league tweaked the Rooney rule (again), required all teams to hire a minority offensive assistant coach, and created an expert panel to submit recommendations to NFL team owners. All while Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL would have two new plaintiffs in the coming days.
Arians’ decision to retire while promoting Bowles reminds me of what legendary UNC men’s basketball coach Dean Smith did in 1997. He shocked the sports world when he retired just before the start of the season with a team ready for the Final Four, just so he could make sure his longtime assistant, Bill Guthridge, finally got his chance. Arians have known Bowles since the former played under him as a starting cornerback for Temple in the mid-1980s.
And Arians doesn’t topple any team. It’s one with Tom Brady back in search of an eighth Super Bowl title.
There are already conspiracy theories. For people who can’t subscribe to Occam’s Razor, they’d rather believe a fairy tale that goes something like this: Brady returned to Tampa on the condition that the Arians no longer be the head coach. The GOAT didn’t have a good relationship with the blunt head coach. Without making it obvious, Brady staged a comeback from his awkward retirement, but only if the Bucs could Arians. And in a league that is a sieve of information, everything would be kept secret for almost a month.
There is no Babushka Lady or Umbrella Man here. Instead, the answer here seems rather simple.
A lifelong ally who is approaching 70 wanted to do good by a successful black coach and longtime friend.
Arians could have come out on top after the 2020 season with their championship but decided to try a second and ultimately failed on the pitch. I would say in making that move, he always came out on top.