TAMPA — Bruce Arians’ hiring as the Bucs’ coach is the day the music died. It had played nonstop for the past half-dozen years or more in warmups, at practice, all the time. He kicked out the cord to the enormous speakers and personal playlists.
For as cool and innovative as Arians appears to be with the Kangol hat and “Hey, baby” cadence, he is decidedly old school, a disciple of and former assistant coach under Paul “Bear’’ Bryant at Alabama.
Some Alabama assistant coaches avoided Bryant’s wrath like a subpoena. Arians was admittedly overconfident when he went to work for him to coach running backs in 1981.
“I was cockier than (expletive),’’ Arians said. “(Bryant) knew it. I think he must have thought I had some potential because he just would rip my a-- and see if I would take it.’’
After games, all the assistants gathered with Bryant to watch film, and he would ask for an assessment from each position coach.
“When he’d get to me, he’d ask, ‘How did the running backs play?’ ” Arians said. “I said, ‘Good.’ Then he would say, ‘Did you watch the film?’ As soon as that meeting was over, I was like, ‘Coach how do you want these guys graded? Do you want letter grades, do you want number grades?’ He said, ‘You’re doing fine.’
“So this goes on for three or four weeks. By the fifth week, he says, ‘No, you’re doing …’ And I said, ‘Obviously, not (bleeping) good enough. How do you want these guys graded?’
“He said, ‘You’re doing good, get out of here.’ It never happened again.’’
What was the lesson Arians learned?
“A head coach who is a little bit feared is a good thing,’’ Arians said.
Arians related this story in his office shortly after taking the Bucs job. A signed picture of Bryant always hangs over Arians’ right shoulder behind his desk.
The point is that the Bucs will reflect Arians’ philosophy and attitude. In part, that may be why Gerald McCoy’s career in Tampa Bay is over and Ndamukong Suh will replace him. The biggest reason is that the Bucs didn’t believe McCoy’s production warranted the $13 million he was owed for 2019. Tampa Bay had one of the worst salary cap situations in the league and couldn’t afford to sign first-round draft pick Devin White.
The Bucs needed the money. And if McCoy, 31, was going to take a pay cut, it was going to happen with a Super Bowl contender. So he was released Monday, and 10 teams have lined up to sign him, with offers up to $11 million. He visited the Browns on Friday.
Meanwhile, Suh has been available since the Rams lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Yet the Bucs are the only known team to offer him a contract. He agreed to a one-year, $9.25 million deal Thursday that could be worth as much as $10 million.
Why might Arians consider Suh a better fit for the Bucs than McCoy?
Remember, general manager Jason Licht signed McCoy to a seven-year extension worth $98 million in 2014.
“From the moment (then-coach) Lovie (Smith) and I arrived here (in 2014), we knew it was vital for us to keep Gerald in Tampa Bay long term as one of the cornerstones of our franchise,” Licht said then. “We are happy to reward someone that has a rare work ethic, which not only makes him an elite player but serves as an example for our entire team.”
So what changed? McCoy got older. So did Suh, 32, who will play for his third team in three years.
But perhaps just as important, Arians preferred Suh over McCoy. The Bucs are switching to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Todd Bowles, and the transition won’t be as difficult for Suh, who has a bigger body, uses his strength and probably has more versatility on that front than McCoy. He can play any of the three down lineman positions.
Suh also plays with a sometimes unbridled passion and aggressiveness that Arians loves. It’s possible Arians wanted a new tone-setter.
The Bucs drafted White, a linebacker, with the No. 5 overall pick. It’s going to be White’s defense, especially with Lavonte David entering his ninth season and Suh signed to only a one-year contract. Jason Pierre-Paul has a cervical fracture from a car accident this month and may not even play this year. Now McCoy is gone.
There is another rubbing-off effect that Arians may be hoping for: what defensive tackle Vita Vea can learn from Suh.
Vea’s temperament is more like McCoy’s than Suh’s. Remember last season, Vea, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick last year, didn’t come alive as an NFL player until he had a “chat” with Licht about being more aggressive and turning it loose.
It’s not like Suh is the type of guy who is going to spend time after practice working on technique with Vea. He’s aloof on and off the field. He’s not going to say much in the locker room.
But the physical style? The nasty demeanor? The way he finishes plays? Minus the penalties and suspensions, that’s all something Vea could benefit from, in Arians’ mind. It’s old school.
Arians is always trying to find players with an edge. If they don’t have one, he will create ways to give it to them.
Take what happened on the first day of organized team activities last week. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, whom Arians had praised as a starter and someone who would thrive in the new press coverage scheme, was singled out by his new head coach.
Hargreaves did not practice. When asked why, Arians said Hargreaves “was not mentally ready.’’ The public scolding was premeditated. He also did that with players when he coached the Cardinals, usually with some warning.
But Hargreaves essentially said it was his decision not to practice due to lingering injuries.
“It was about nothing,’’ Hargreaves said. “(Arians) came and talked to me. … That’s my guy because we’re on the same page. Nothing. Tough love.’’
We’re about to discover whether a coach who can be feared is good for the Bucs.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected]. Follow @NFLStroud.