TAMPA, FL - August 21, 2021 - Head Coach Bruce Arians of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the preseason game between the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. The Titans won the game, 34-3. Photo By Matt May/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The year was 1983. Ronald Reagan was in his first term as President of the United States. Tom Brady had just begun first grade in Northern California and Gandhi won the Best Picture award at the Oscars. In Philadelphia, the Sixers were NBA champions, the Eagles were not relevant and a somewhat cocky 30-year-old named Bruce Arians had just taken over the Temple University football program.
Before arriving at Temple, Arians had been a grad assistant at Virginia Tech and the running backs coach at both Mississippi State and Alabama of the powerful Southeast Conference.
Who could have guessed 38 years later a much-less cocky and now 68-year-old Arians would be the head coach of the Super Bowl champions and that his six years spent at Temple would play so much into that?
“I’ll tell you this,” Arians said in a lengthy telephone interview. “Those six years at Temple were something. I’m probably closer to those guys than any group I’ve ever coached.”
It shows on Arians’ Super Bowl-winning coaching staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There are five former Temple players—special teams coach Keith Armstrong, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, running backs coach Todd McNair, safeties coach Nick Rapone, and cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross—and two former Temple coaches—quarterback coach Clyde Christensen and assistant special teams coach Amos Jones,—on Arians current staff.
Fifteen more players and coaches from Temple came down to Tampa the week of Super Bowl LV to show their support for their old coach.
“The guys here they were all calling us ‘The Temple Bay Buccaneers,’” Arians said.
Arians’ six years with the Owls never produced more than a 6-5 record and his 27-39 overall record doesn’t usually translate to the success he’s had since. But when you consider in nine of the next 11 years after he was let go Temple went either 2-9 or 1-10, maybe 6-5 is equivalent to winning a Super Bowl.
Arians is one of two former Temple coaches in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers Matt Rhule being the other. Al Golden left Temple for the University of Miami and Geoff Collins left the Owls for Georgia Tech.
Arians really never wanted to leave.
“I loved the vibe of the city,” he said. “Being Broad St. tough, Temple tough. When the Flyers were the Broad St. Bullies, we tried to make that Temple Tough slogan go, those kids that play there now still believe it. The Philly fans are fantastic, too. They love their teams. When they love their teams, they don’t accept anything but winning.”
Arians wasn’t using Temple as a stepping-stone to better things. It just turned out that way.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I loved Temple.
“The thing about it is I never learned how to delegate and ended up in the hospital three times a week those last few years. When you learn how to delegate it makes it a lot more fun.”
Arians’ first coaching job came at Virginia Tech in 1975. He’s coached every year since, except for 2018 when, after retiring from the Arizona Cardinals, he spent a year at CBS. He got back to coaching with the Bucs in 2019 and won the Super Bowl last season.
“Arizona was a great experience,” Arians said of his first NFL head coaching job which didn’t come until 2013 when he was 60 years old.
But after a second bout with carcinoma and a grandson on the way, “It was time to get out,” he said.
Arians had said that for him to get back to coaching it would have to be the ideal situation, and the Buccaneers presented him with just that.
“Well, yes and no,” Arians said with a chuckle. “My son called me, he’s my agent, and said you need to call Jason (Licht, the Bucs general manager). Jason and I are good friends, great guy. The Glazers (the Bucs owners) are fantastic. I said, ‘Let me think about it’ and then all of my assistants became available, all 18. I told my wife, ‘We’re on the East coast, you’re near the (grand) babies. And when you walk in the door, you’re going to know 18 of the wives.’ When she got on board, I was on board.”
Two years later after Tampa Bay had suffered through losing seasons eight of the past nine years it had its second Super Bowl title.
“Thank God the Glazers wanted to hire an old guy,” Arians said. “Most of the guys hired today all look like (Los Angeles Rams head coach) Sean McVay. They took a shot and it paid off.”
When Arians was let go by Temple after the 1988 season he bounced back and forth between “assistants” jobs in the NFL and major college. He was the running backs coach in Kansas City (1989-92). The offensive coordinator at Mississippi State (1993-95). The tight ends coach for New England (1996). The offensive coordinator at Alabama (1997). And then the offensive coordinator for Indianapolis (1998-00), Cleveland (2001-03), Pittsburgh (2004-11) where he was part of two Super Bowl wins and a Super Bowl loss and Indianapolis again (2012).
That second stint in Indy is where he got his break because it was beginning to look as if he would never be a head coach again.
“Oh yeah, after Super Bowl 43, usually every winning offensive coordinator gets an interview at least,” Arians said. “We beat the Cardinals and I didn’t even get a phone call. I figured it just wasn’t in the cards. It wasn’t going to happen.
“It took Chuck to get sick for me to become a head coach.”
Chuck is Chuck Pagano, the Colts head coach in 2012 who battled cancer throughout the season. Arians took over as the interim head coach and led the Colts to an 11-5 season and a wild-card berth.
“It was a dream year. Chuck getting sick, and then getting better,” Arians said. “The team, we weren’t very good, but we had a cause to play for and that was to get Chuck healthy and get him back. We knew football was the best medicine for him. We did everything we could for him every single day, made sure he was caught up on what we were doing, we had chalkboards in his hospital room.”
When Pagano returned, Arians became a hot name in the coaching circles. He had seven interviews lined up, but only one—Arizona—actually came to fruition.
“I went to the Bears because they were the first team to put in the paperwork and found out about three in the morning I didn’t get that job. Five of the other ones had dropped me. Arizona wasn’t one of the jobs I wanted to interview for, because Ken Whisenhunt (who the Cards had fired) is a dear friend. I called Kenny, he said, ‘Come, don’t worry about the rest of the stuff.’”
Arians only had one losing season (7-8-1 in 2016) in Arizona, where they haven’t had a winning season since, but his time there ended after the 2017 season.
It appeared his coaching career had as well. Then the Tampa Bay job opened. And two years later he has a Lombardi Trophy.
“It was a crazy situation. You had to beat the virus before you could beat any other team,” Arians said of the 2020 COVID-19 season. “I’m sitting home in May and June wondering if we’re even going to play. We had just signed Tom [Brady] and we could never meet and practice. We didn’t start meeting until the first day of training camp. It was a struggle the first eight or nine weeks, but we gradually got through it all. And put it together those last eight weeks.”
The 2020 season turned into a dream for Arians and the Bucs. Here are some of his thoughts.
On signing Brady: “No one thought he’d come here. The first time we talked I knew he had great interest. He knew every single thing about us. He was recruiting me as much as I was recruiting him. He knew the players. He knew the offense. He watched all the films. Tom does his homework. He doesn’t make any decisions without doing his homework. It was a really good match.”
On Winning Three Playoff Road Games: “I’d been with the Steelers when we won three straight road games. But the stands were packed. This was different. Until we got to Green Bay (for NFC Championship Game) we hadn’t heard any noise. They had about 9,000 in the bottom bowl and it sounded like 50,000. I think that brought some energy to the game.”
On Being Home for the Super Bowl: “It was crazy. Our practice field is straight across from the stadium. We’re getting ready to play the Packers (in the NFC title game) and they’re hanging Super Bowl banners everywhere. You can’t help but see it. I’m having to tell the guys, ‘You can’t worry about that game, you have to worry about this game or we’ll be watching that game on television.’ We had to stay focused. Then to go to practice after we won and look across the street and know you’re going to play the Super Bowl in your home stadium it was amazing.”
Arians’ Bucs blew out Andy Reid’s Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV. It would be a great way for a great coach to end a great career that started a long time ago and grew on North Broad St.
It’s not happening. Not yet.
“I’m still having fun every day,” Arians said, “so until it’s not fun anymore…”