Lombardi: Why did Bruce Arians move to Tampa Bay's front office now?


They won’t be serving biscuits any longer down in Tampa, as the biscuit man moved upstairs. In an already stranger-than-normal offseason, Bruce Arians’ decision to step away from the Buccaneers sideline ranks at the top of the bizarre list of March trades and free agent signings.  Why now?  How did the decision to move into a different role strike down at the end of March?  

This isn’t the first time a head coach has changed during the owners meetings.  During the 1994 owners meetings in Palm Springs, California, Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones had their little spat, which resulted in Jimmy leaving and Barry Switzer taking over. The Johnson/Jones fight in the desert was the beginning of the end of the Cowboys dynasty, as evidenced by their 8-12 playoff record since 1994. There was a specific reason for change in March of ’94; for this Arians change, I’m having a hard time understanding. 

The timing of the move will fuel the fire that quarterback Tom Brady only came back with Arians moving out.  Arians’ recent words are a little like gasoline.  At the NFL combine in February, Arians said that Brady was happy in retirement and not coming back. He praised Blaine Gabbert, almost implying that the offense will function as well with him under center, even though Gabbert wasn’t currently under contract for the Bucs. Then shortly after Brady’s 40-day retirement ended, Arians decides to move into different role, adding fuel to the already burning fire.  In this case, one plus one doesn’t equal two.  Each move is different and the conspiracy theory is highly doubtful. From my understanding of the situation, Brady wasn’t on the sixth floor in Dallas waiting for Arians' car to turn onto Elm Street.

Brady knew all along that Arians wasn’t long for the sideline and in fact, when he called to tell the Bucs he was coming back, he learned days later that Arians wasn’t.  This Arians move has been in the works for some time, yet the decision to allow it to linger -- even attending the NFL owner meetings then quickly departing -- adds more fuel to the unnecessary speculation about their relationship problems. 

From the start, the football relationship between Brady and Arians was never going to be smooth.  Both men were raised differently, from diverse backgrounds, and their approach to winning the game offensively wasn’t aligned from inception.  Over time, they found a middle ground of what works best for both, and with Arians not calling plays, this transition was smoother.  During their Super Bowl season, more Brady plays from the New England offensive scheme started to appear within Tampa Bay’s offense, which isn’t a disparagement towards Arians -- it’s a complement, recognizing the strengths of this elite player.  Once they found their middle ground, their offense kicked into gear, resulting in a Super Bowl victory. 

Arians’ move upstairs is a strange one to understand, though.  Why not stay on the sidelines, continuing to allow your staff to control the game?  It wasn’t as if Arians was an active play caller or involved in every detail of all three phases of the game like Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.  Arians on game day was more involved yelling at the officials than making adjustments in the three phases.  He never appeared to do more than watch the game, and any alterations required by the offense, Brady and offensive coordinator Bryon Leftwich (along with QB coach Clyde Christiansen) implemented.  Arians never messed with the defense or the kicking game, and anyone who watched the last 45 seconds of the Rams’ playoff game knows clock management wasn’t Arians’ specialty.  Arians had a cushy head coaching job, and the only question I have is why give that up if your health is not a concern?  I guess the only answer is he got a cushier job in the front office. 

When defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was interviewing for head coaching positions this year, I felt the Bucs should name him head coach in waiting.  They couldn’t afford to allow him to leave.  Bowles is an excellent coach and don’t permit the New York Jets experience from 2015-2018 to affect your evaluation.  Yes, his 24-40 record wasn’t good and he had problems solving the offensive staff riddle and finding the right quarterback; his general manager at the time, Mike Maccagnan, also wasn’t great in his role.  Bowles, as a young coach, needed a partner in the front office to help him develop into the role.  There is more to Bowles than that subpar win-loss record. 

Bowles became an NFL coach because former Giants head man Bill Parcells watched this undrafted rookie from Temple start at free safety for Washington, making every adjustment call in the complex Richie Petitbon defense. For those that don’t remember, Petitbon was an outstanding defensive coach, and his system of defense required adjustments to the adjustments and highly intelligent players playing linebacker and safety.  Parcells was so amazed that Bowles could grasp this intricate defense, he instantly made a mental note to hire Bowles as a coach when his playing days were over.  Parcells took Bowles under his wing, he helped develop his philosophy and how to demand from the players.  Bowles isn’t shy about holding players accountable.  He understands the importance of playing complementary football and will be philosophically in tune with Brady. 

This move actually helps the Bucs. Bowles will be his own man, not affected by Arians watching over his shoulder upstairs, as the two men are close. And Arians has skin in the game, which will help the situation. He isn’t leaving town believing the organization will fall apart once he isn’t on the sidelines. Bowles can make the game adjustments needed to allow all three phases to work together and now has more clout to ensure the front office helps bolster the defensive line, which is still missing Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh.  With the additions in the offensive line and bringing Brady’s go-to receiver Chris Godwin back, along with eventually signing Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs’ offense is fully charged.  If they stay healthy and Brady continues to combat father time, they will move the ball effectively and score points.  Brady was sensational last year --even better than his Super Bowl season -- which made it hard to understand why he walked away.  If he plays to close to the same level, Tampa Bay will have a top-five offense.

The Bucs will continue to play well on defense, especially considering they face Marcus Mariota, Sam Darnold and Jameis Winston twice each year.  Their schedule outside of the South is more challenging, playing the NFC West and North, with the Packers at home sprinkled in.  With Brady returning, their win total is set at 11.5, which means if they win all six South divisional games, and go 6-5 outside the division they hit the over.  Looks easy on paper, but harder on the gridiron. 

As we enter April, the NFL can’t continue to amaze us with news, yet, I have the feeling, we will be shocked again and again and again.  And we will all love it.  Best wishes to Arians in his new role, and I am excited to watch Bowles be the head man. 

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