Bruce Arians, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory, is retiring from coaching effective immediately with the intent of being replaced by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Arians, 69, informed his coaching staff and players of the news Wednesday evening and discussed the decision exclusively with the Los Angeles Times and NBC’s Peter King.
Bowles is expected to be named head coach as soon as Wednesday night with an introductory news conference Thursday.
“Succession’s always been huge for me,” Arians said, adding the organization “is probably in the best shape in its history.”
Arians, a two-time NFL coach of the year, is handing the reins to Bowles, his defensive coordinator in both Arizona and Tampa Bay and a former head coach of the New York Jets.
Normally, a team would need to comply with the Rooney Rule and conduct in-person interviews with at least two minority candidates for a head-coaching vacancy — that’s people of color and/or women. But because this is happening after the start of the league year, when the interview window has closed, this type of coach-to-coach succession is permissible.
The Buccaneers recently sought clarification from the NFL to ensure they were operating properly under the hiring protocols.
Bowles would bring the NFL’s total of minority head coaches to six. He will be the fourth head coach of the Buccaneers who is Black, an NFL record. No other franchise has had more than two. The Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers, previously hired Tony Dungy, Raheem Morris and Lovie Smith to be head coach.
Arians said a pivotal moment in his decision came two weeks ago when future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady decided to unretire and rejoin the team. Arians said that gave him the peace of mind he needed to pass along the job to his longtime friend and colleague.
“[I don’t need to] win another 15 games for me to be happy,” Arians said. “I’d rather see Todd in position to be successful and not have to take some [bad] job. I’m probably retiring next year anyway, in February. So I control the narrative right now. I don’t control it in February because [if] Brady gets hurt and we go 10-7, it’s an open interview for the job.”
Asked if there was some type of friction with Brady that played a role in the coach’s decision to step down, Arians said no, yet conceded: “I had conflicts with every player I coached because I cussed them all out, including him.”
He then added: “Great relationship off the field.”
Arians plans to remain in the Buccaneers organization as senior consultant for football. He did not attend the Tuesday media breakfast for NFC coaches and made his comments about his decision over the phone.
“I’ll be at practices, I’ll be in the office,” he said. “Whatever they need me to do. I’m gonna have a heavy hand in the draft because [general manager Jason Licht] and I, we’ve got a good rapport in the draft. We’ll have Todd in there, too.
“The biggest thing I know, I won’t be on the sideline during games. I’ll be making too many penalties. They’ll flag me now that I’m not the head coach for cussing them out. That’s the biggest thing right now — where the hell am I gonna stand during the games?”
Citing health issues and a desire to focus on life outside of football, Arians left the Arizona Cardinals four years ago after five seasons as their coach. He spent the 2018 season in the CBS broadcast booth before resurfacing with the Buccaneers.
Building a diverse coaching staff, including women, has been a hallmark of his career. Last season’s Buccaneers were the first to have two female full-time coaches on staff and the first team with Black coaches at all three coordinator spots — and four if you count assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin.
“I always said, I don’t have three Black coordinators; I got the three best coordinators I know,” said Arians, whose 2021 staff included a league-high 11 Black assistant coaches. “They just happen to be Black. The women thing was by design. I wanted to break that door down.”
Bowles, who was a defensive coordinator under Arians at Arizona, was 24-40 in four seasons as head coach of the New York Jets, from 2015 to 2018.
Among the quarterbacks coached by Arians are Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and now Brady, who even at 44 was squarely in the most valuable player conversation last season.
“With Tom and all of these guys back now,” he said, “it’s the perfect timing for me just to go into the front office and still have the relationships that I love and go to work and put my hand in the pile somehow that Todd take it.”
The anticipation is that Arians and Brady will be in attendance Thursday when the Buccaneers hold a news conference to officially announce the coaching handover.
Before Brady returned from retirement, the plan was for Tampa Bay to re-sign quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Said Arians: “Part of me was excited to coach Blaine Gabbert as the quarterback and prove everybody: Kiss my ass, he’s good.”
The coach said he gave serious thought to retiring after the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl 13 months ago before getting swept up in the idea of repeating as champions.
“I thought really hard about going out on top,” he said. “Then it was like, nah, let’s go for two. Last year was a grind with all the injuries but still winning and getting to where we got. Immediately after, two to three weeks afterwards, it was like can’t let my coaches hanging. I got 31 families that depend on me. If I retire in February, it’s open interviews. My wife is big on not letting all those families down.”
Arians said he still feels regret about the fallout from his Arizona departure. At the time, he had hoped the job would go to Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher. Instead, Arizona hired Steve Wilks, who brought in a new staff of assistant coaches and was fired after one 3-13 season.
Arizona marked Arians’ second retirement. His first came in early 2012 after the Pittsburgh Steelers fired him as offensive coordinator. It didn’t take long for him to return to the game, however. He agreed to join Chuck Pagano’s staff in Indianapolis in 2012, and took over as interim coach after Pagano was diagnosed with cancer. Arians became the first interim to be named the league’s coach of the year.
Arians, who didn’t get his first head coaching opportunity until two days before his 60th birthday, retires with a record of 89-51-1 in nine seasons with his teams notching double-digit victories five times. His teams went 6-3 in the playoffs, with the Buccaneers beating Kansas City in the Super Bowl to cap the 2020 season.
He said this third coaching farewell is for keeps.
“Like [my son] Jake said, ‘You’re stepping away from a Super Bowl team that ain’t really smart,’ ” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m stepping away because I’m not retiring. In my mind, I’m not retiring I’m just moving over to the other side of the office and still be there for whoever needs me.”