Whether you believe that former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was urged in 2017 by Michael Bidwill to retire or whether he was complying with his lovely wife Christine’s urgent pleas for him to stop playing “no risk-it, no biscuit” with his health —- by now —- it is a moot point.
As Cardinals’ fans well know, for Bruce Arians’ first three years as the head coach in Arizona he became the incarnation of Buddy Ryan’s old unfulfilled self-prophesy of “you finally have a winner in town.”
Arians, with his sharp bravado, swept the organization, the Red Sea and the Arizona media off their feet, literally and figuratively.
But, as we also know, by year four of his tenure, Arians’ bravado, in large part due to recurring health issues and his cantankerous impatience with players he deemed as failures in progress, waxed more oppressive than inspirational.
One of the more poignant ironies with regard to BA’s decline in Arizona is how he publicly questioned whether safety Tony Jefferson (who delivered 15 tackles versus the Panthers in the 2015 NFC Championship game 49-15 loss) would play as well and hard now that the Ravens in 2016 showed him the money.
Just as Arians’ public disparagement of the Rams came back to bite him and the organization in the face, the profound irony of BA’s Jefferson comments was that once the Cardinals showed safety Tyrann Mathieu the money, the Honey Badger (whom BA has always professed a kindred affection for), did not play as well or as hard as he did on his rookie contract, in part due to his own health issues—- right in front of BA’s eyes when the direction of the team was plummeting downward.
However, anyone who knows Bruce Arians, knows that, health permitting, his retirement from coaching in 2017 was not going to be permanent.
Arians’ coaching spirit is much akin to Odysseus’ (Ulysses) indefatigable thirst for competition and the camaraderie of his crewmen, as so aptly depicted by Alfred Lord Tennyson at the onset and the conclusion of his poem “Ulysses” when he imagined that Odysseus, following his fateful return to Ithaca, wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to get back on the sea again, despite the perils and despite his advancing age.
The Tennyson poem commences:
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Thus, after being cast adrift for a year —- a healing year that not only might have saved Bruce Arians’ life —- he was able to wash up on the shore of Tampa Bay where he suddenly and miraculously found himself in the midst of a perfect storm —- coaching for a GM who understood Arians’ coaching prowess —-inheriting a new roster (unlike the ravaged one he left in Arizona) chock-full of talent on both sides of the ball —- and most of all, reuniting in the nick of time with his coaching cronies, the most significant of which was Todd Bowles who was the McCartney to BA’s Lennon in helping to lead the Cardinals to a stunning 21-11 regular season record in 2013-2014.
The mark of a great coach is his or her ability to reflect on past mistakes in order to make necessary adjustments. Some may have thought that Bruce Arians would have been too stubborn and stuck in his old familiar ways to do so. Ah, but look at the 5 key changes that BA made upon his return to coaching:
- Turning over the responsibilities of play calling to Byron Leftwich.
- Toning down his rhetoric and his prior penchant for throwing players under the bus during “tell-all” press conferences.
- Hiring a highly competent special team’s coordinator in Keith Armstrong.
- At 7-5 this past season, during the bye week, with his offense unable to prevail during three recent losses to the Saints (3-38), the Rams (24-27) and the Chiefs (24-27), BA made the decision to let QB Tom Brady take full command of the offense so as to cater it to his strengths. The results were astounding: 4 straight wins to end the season, averaging 37 points per game and then sweeping the playoffs scoring 30 or more points in all four games, including the Bucs’ sensational 31-9 win in Super Bowl LV, made even sweeter by winning it in the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium.
- Throughout the Bucs’ 8-0 winning streak, BA manifested rare displays of modesty, the most salient of which was saying “we let Tom (Brady) coach” and then saying “I didn’t do shit.”
As a result of BA’s willingness and to delegate the most important responsibilities to his assistant coaches ands eagerness to encourage his players to take over the ownership of the team’s weekly preparations, the reaction that BA received from his players when they handed him the Halas Trophy was ebullient —- to the point where Tom Brady told the media before the Super Bowl that all of the Bucs wanted to win the game for Bruce Arians. Brady said, “He’s just so endearing to everybody and I think everyone wants to win for him. I think that’s what you want to do for a coach —- you want get out there and you want to win for him.”
Not only did the Bucs win the Super Bowl —- Bruce Arians won perhaps the greatest prize of all, the love of his players. Tom Brady said, “I love playing for him.”
And now, thanks in large part to the key adjustments he made upon his return to coaching, Bruce Arians has experienced the ultimate achievement that his profession affords —- winning “All and Everything.”