The vibe around the Buccaneers continues to be a little confusing, a little unconventional, and potentially more than a little awkward.
Bruce Arians is no longer the coach, but he’s still there. He’s at practice. He’s around. He’s looming. His title is generic (senior advisor to the General Manager), his duties are undefined, and his presence is unmistakable.
So what will he be doing as a non-coach in what, as he says, would have been his last year as the head coach?
“Let me stay and do what I want to do and have a big hand in it,” Arians said last week, via Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
Wait, what? A big hand in it? Arians realized he may have said too much, given the manner in which he quickly backtracked, in the very next breath.
“It doesn’t look like a big hand, but to me it’s a big hand because I’m here,” Arians added. “I’m on the field, I’m coaching. . . . I’m going to go to practice and see little things and go to [offensive coordinator] Byron [Leftwich] and say, ‘Look at this.’”
The question is whether the former coach’s input will be truly heeded, or whether it will be given perfunctory, respectful attention before being disregarded. The mere fact that Arians feels empowered to chime in makes his official title — senior adviser to the General Manager — even more unusual. If he’s the senior adviser to the General Manager, why would he be unofficially advising the coaching staff on anything?
How far will he go? A lot of it depends on how far the coaching staff lets it go. If Arians makes suggestions that they simply don’t adopt, maybe he’ll get the message, eventually. Or maybe at some point someone will say to G.M. Jason Licht that perhaps he should tell the senior advisor to the G.M. to stick to advising the G.M.
The near future is thus an unknown. The recent past remains unsettled, too. Arians said more to Stroud regarding the thought processes that culminated in Arians’s stunning, late-March decision to step aside. He made it clear that, if quarterback Tom Brady hadn’t ended a 40-day retirement, Arians would still be the head coach.
“I was going the other way,” Arians said regarding the prevailing belief that Brady would be back. “I was thinking he wasn’t going to play. I was thinking about who are we going to get? Who wants to trade? There wasn’t anybody to draft. That was obvious. Me, to the public, I was fine with the two we had: Blaine [Gabbert] and Kyle [Trask]. Because I’ve seen Blaine win with a good team behind him. Had Tom not come back, I probably would still be coaching. I couldn’t give Todd that situation.”
Arians said plenty in just a few words, beyond an implicit trashing of Kenny Pickett and the rest of the quarterback draft class. Arians firmly believes in Blaine Gabbert, but Arians says he couldn’t have given new coach Todd Bowles “that situation” of having Gabbert as his quarterback. Also, Arians glosses over the reality that the Buccaneers surely would have found another veteran, whether it was Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo or Deshaun Watson or someone/anyone other than Blaine Gabbert.
The timeline and the circumstances continue to invite speculation that Arians was nudged to step aside as part of the discussions that brought Brady back. Everything pointed toward Arians staying put, until he exited the league meetings before the NFC head coaches’ breakfast and then abruptly was out, via a carefully-engineered release that resulted in co-exclusives for Sam Farmer and Peter King followed minutes later by an official press release.
Consider this very telling line from Stroud’s story regarding Arians’s exit: “His son, Jake, spent several weeks coordinating the timing of the announcement.”
This was a slow and methodical process, and it was sparked by the unretirement of Brady. The same night Brady came back, someone told me that the next step would be Arians stepping down, and not because Arians would be choosing to do so. I was unable to nail it down, perhaps because the Buccaneers and Arians were so deliberate and careful in the crafting and selling of a narrative that Arians willingly walked the plank.
The reality is that he’s still standing on the plank. Still yelling back suggestions to the guys steering the ship. Will they listen to him? Will they act like they can’t hear him? Or will they eventually remove a sword from its scabbard and chop off the plank at its base?