Just over a year after leading the team to a Super Bowl championship, Bruce Arians is stepping down as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach and moving into a role in Tampa Bay’s front office as a senior football consultant. This is the Buccaneers’ second stunning announcement this offseason, following Tom Brady’s short-lived retirement announcement in February, and his return to the team on March 18. And now, with Arians stepping down, 10 NFL teams—nearly a third of the league—will have a new head coach heading into the upcoming season. This represents the largest turnover in coaches from one season to the next since 2008, when 11 changes at the position occurred.
Arians has had an amazing head coaching career in the NFL that lasted eight seasons, including five 10-win seasons and a Super Bowl title with Tampa Bay. He began his coaching career in 1975 at Virginia Tech before landing his first head coach position at Temple for six years. His first NFL coaching position was with Kansas City in 1989, as the running backs’ coach. After four years in that role, he became a tight ends coach with the New Orleans Saints in 1996, and later became the Colts’ quarterbacks coach in 1998. After three seasons in Indiana, he moved to Cleveland, where he was the offensive coordinator of the Browns for three seasons, and he then spent eight years with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator. Then, Arians returned to the Colts as their interim head coach for a year, before moving to the Cardinals as head coach in 2013 and retiring from them after the 2017 season, citing health issues. He then returned after a year away to lead the Buccaneers as head coach from 2019 to 2022, with a Super Bowl Championship in 2020. As the head coach of the Buccaneers, Arians had a 0.633 winning percentage (31-18) in his three seasons with the team, making him the coach with the highest winning percentage in Tampa Bay’s history.
In addition to his success on the field, Arians is well known for promoting diversity on his coaching staff. In Tampa, his offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators were all Black, the most coaches of color of any team in football. There are also two women on his coaching staff, including one in a pipeline defensive position coaching job. Thus, it should come as little surprise that on March 30, Todd Bowles, the Buccaneers’ former defensive coordinator, was named head coach after the announcement of Arians’ retirement. Serving under Bowles are Byron Leftwich as the offensive coordinator, Keith Armstrong as the special teams coordinator and Harold Goodwin as the assistant head coach. Bowles will ensure a continuity of the Buccaneers’ coaching lineup, which has remained relatively unchanged since 2019. He will also be the sixth Black head coach currently serving in the NFL, which is the highest number in NFL history, amid criticism of the NFL for not doing enough to promote diversity in its coaching ranks. This will be the second full-time NFL head coaching opportunity for Bowles, who previously served as the head coach for the Jets for four seasons. And while he went 24-40 in his seasons with the Jets, Bowles has proved himself in helping Tampa Bay finish top three in rushing yards allowed each year, leading the league in 2020 with 142 quarterback hits, 107 tackles for loss and 34 takeaways. And now, with Brady’s return to the team, which he states as one of his reasons for retirement, Arians is leaving the Buccaneers to Bowles in prime condition and full of star players for an amazing season. As a result, it is safe to say that Arians has been a trailblazer for the industry, and leaves having done more for the profession at a time of true crisis than just about any coach in professional football.
Perhaps one of the more controversial issues surrounding Arians’ retirement is the supposed conflict between Brady and Arians. And while there were already many conspiracy theories swirling about Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason, they’ve grown even stronger over the past few days since Arians’ announcement. Of course, any supposed rift between Brady and Arians has been thoroughly denied by both, dating back to the 2020 season, but there are still fans and reporters speculating about the possibility of Brady forcing Arians’ departure. Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson stated, “Despite all his ‘respect and admiration’ for Arians, [Brady] is also totally cool if the guy isn’t around on the coaching staff in 2022.” This theory is supported by the fact that Arians told NFL Network in January, “I’m coaching until I can’t,” which seems to contradict his current comments, and rumors that everything seemed to have happened after Brady met with Buccaneers ownership in London prior to his unretirement. These all seem relatively convincing, but in the end, we will never know exactly what happened, especially with Arians having plenty of incentive to shape his career narrative in a way that avoids any suggestion of having conflicts with arguably the greatest player in NFL history.
Regardless of any controversies surrounding Arians’ retirement, it is clear that Arians has provided the league with many important changes and opened doors for more diversity in the NFL. And while Arians stated during the press conference to announce his transition to a consultant role that he did not “give a **** about the Hall of Fame, and succession is way more important,” it is still a sad thing to see one of the most talented coaches in NFL history leave. Hopefully, Arians can enjoy the rest of his years away from the coaching position, and have an easier time on his health.