The big ‘if’ that accompanies Bruce Arians to Tampa Bay

The Bucs' 12th head coach will be a rock star in Tampa Bay, if he's all in.
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, front right, hugs Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, front right, hugs Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Published January 8
Updated January 8

TAMPA — If you had wondered if Bruce Arians would make history by being the first head football coach to take a physical before signing a contract, you're too late.

Arians reportedly did not bring a note from his doctor to interview with the Bucs.

He brought his doctor.

And now he is the 12th head coach in Bucs history.

But Arians' health was a legitimate discussion. The Bucs must have thought so, or why did they reportedly have Arians take that physical? And Arians started all this when he stepped away from the NFL in the name of health and family after the 2017 season, a noble thing to do.

So much for nobility. Arians is back at age 66, ready to lead the Bucs and make a last-ditch stab at making Jameis Winston into a professional football quarterback, so help him Glazer, with the double secret bonus that his friend and former co-worker, Bucs still GM Jason Licht, gets to keep his cereal bowl.

It's BA's turn.

Make no mistake: The cat in the duffer's hat will be a rock star in Tampa Bay. "No risk it, no biscuit" will become a rallying cry when Arians grabs hold of this team, quarterback and town if he's all in.

If.

To me, it's not his age. Dashing Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is a year older than Arians. Patriots destroyer of worlds Bill Belichick is a half year older than Arians. Dick Vermeil was 61 when he returned to the NFL in 1997. Three seasons later, Vermeil was crying all over the Lombardi Trophy.

I'm 60 myself. I have no doubt Arians could do more sit-ups than me. But I'm not considering a deep dive back into the mad, mad, mad world of running an NFL program.

It's not age. It's how "all in" Arians will Arians be, and for how long. Will he be ready to relive the vicious cycle of head coaching, 70-, 80-hour weeks, no let up? It can grind anyone into dust. Just ask Urban Meyer's doctor.

Arians has had health scares. A prostate cancer survivor, he had symptoms of diverticulitis in 2016. He has been to the hospital for chest pains after a road trip. He had a kidney-cancer scare. And Arians actually said this shortly after he stepped away from Arizona:

"There's too much more to live for to die on the sideline."

And now he's back.

Think his blood pressure will go down by returning?

My advice: Remember to pack your successor.

The rewards could be there in hiring Arians. The risks could, too.

If we get the Arians of a few years back, forget it. When he was on his game, all of it, Arians was inventive, aggressive, fiery. Players wanted to play for him.

Arians will be a media dream come true, a story every time he opens his mouth, in and around and maybe even including deleted expletives. He was a mad-capped innovator when few teams were sending out five guys. True, it's harder to do that these days, with all those athletes on defensive lines. If you send five guys out, you're relying on the five guys left in, and I've seen the Bucs offensive line and running backs.

Most important, Arians perfected the art of QB relationships, whether it was as Peyton Manning's first NFL quarterback coach, or Ben Roethlisberger's offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh or Andrew Luck's interim head coach in Indianapolis. Arians' best work might have come in 2017 in Arizona, before he stepped away, when he made an 8-8 season out of Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton with Carson Palmer out.

"He's a mad scientist," Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald once said.

I don't doubt that. Or that Arians will be great in the locker room, the coaching room and the interview room. It's the emergency room I worry about it. It's one reason Arians stepped away. It's why the Bucs ordered up a physical.

Will they get enough quality Arians time? Will they get three seasons, two seasons? I suppose anything less means more upheaval. On the bright side, how long does any coach last in the NFL? The Bucs might as well have used a stopwatch to time their recent coaches' tenures. And Arians' mission of mercy, one with Winston's name on it, might be a swift surgical strike.

Bruce Arians has won in most places he has been and will be a blast to cover. After all this misery, he will do Tampa Bay's heart good. He's worth it if he's all in.

If.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or 813-731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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