Now-former Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians conducted his farewell press conference on Thursday, wrapping up three years in Tampa Bay and decades of coaching in a celebration that included the Buccaneers announcing that Arians will be added to the team’s Ring of Honor.
During the event, Arians addressed the largely ignored elephant in the room — his reportedly frayed relationship with Tom Brady.
“All the players, there are a few in here, every one of them has gotten cussed out,” Arians said, “including him. That’s just part of me. That’s nothing new. We have a great relationship. . . . People got to write shit. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Arians downplayed any notion of issues with Brady by also pointing out that they kept in touch during Brady’s retirement, and that they golf together. But there’s a difference between the professional and the personal. Haven’t we all at some point had a colleague who became a friend and, thereafter, issues arose within the context of the work relationship? Just because two people no longer see eye to eye professionally doesn’t mean the friendship must also die.
Really, if Brady got to the point where he no longer believed that Arians gave the team the best chance to win, would he pull the plug on his friendship with him? Would he not show up for his farewell press conference?
It was comical, frankly, to see so many people conclusively presume that Brady’s presence at the press conference automatically means that everything was fine and dandy between player and coach. Are we really that naive? Do we not realize that the things people do and say publicly often don’t reflect the privately held feelings?
The circumstantial evidence, coupled with persistent and unambiguous reporting from Rich Ohrnberger, has pointed to Brady developing natural human resentment for the fact that he and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich were busting their asses every week on the game plan and that, apparently, Arians swooped in and tried to change things without the equity that comes from putting in the time studying film and selecting plays and determining the best strategy for beating the next opponent.
If there was a rift between Brady and Arians, would anyone expect them to admit it? If Brady conditioned his return on major changes being made at the top of the coaching staff, would anyone expect him to acknowledge it publicly? And if Arians were nudged out of his job but he and the team crafted an exit founded on a high-road notion of succession, would anyone expect anything that conflicts with this narrative?
At the end of his remarks, Arians left. He quickly came back. He said to the assembled reporters, “It’s been great working with you, the press, all over the country. Florio, you can write what you want. It’s OK.”
Reasonable minds can interpret those words differently. I’ll interpret them as Arians acknowledging that members of the media have a job to do, that we each do it in our own unique way, and that he has no hard feelings about whatever I feel compelled to write or say, even if it cuts against the story that he or the team would like us to accept and repeat.
Or maybe he simply wanted to give me a verbal middle finger on his way out the door. Regardless, the fact that he was thinking of the opinions articulated in this space while he was making his final remarks as an NFL head coach reconfirms that they read these words, and that they have real impact and influence among those who coach, manage, own, and play for NFL teams.