1. Bucs

Bucs’ Bruce Arians-Jameis Winston: A match made in Birmingham

In Bruce Arians, the Bucs are getting a two-time NFL Coach of the Year apparently willing and eager to work with a quarterback and general manager who need him.
Bruce Arians, left, and Jameis Winston, shown here when the Bucs played Oct. 15, 2017 at Arizona. Winston and the Bucs lost to Arians' Arizona Cardinals teams in  2016 and 2017. [Times files (2017)]
Bruce Arians, left, and Jameis Winston, shown here when the Bucs played Oct. 15, 2017 at Arizona. Winston and the Bucs lost to Arians' Arizona Cardinals teams in 2016 and 2017. [Times files (2017)]
Published Jan. 8, 2019
Updated Jan. 9, 2019

TAMPA —As perfect matches go, this is a success story for qbHarmony.

Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston were like-minded and single.

Winston needed a coach who could resurrect his career in his final year under contract with the Bucs.

At 66, Arians needed a reason to come back to the sideline after the former Cardinals coach spent one year in retirement.

Think about it.

There were two main requirements for any man wanting to be the Bucs' next head coach:

He had to accept that Winston was the starting quarterback in 2019. He also had to be willing to work with Jason Licht as general manager.

Not only was Arians willing to do both, he actually preferred it.

It's funny, but the first man to make Winston think about winning a Super Bowl ring is now the coach hired by the Bucs to slip one on his finger.

Winston was in middle school when he attended a football camp in Birmingham, Ala., that was directed by Arians and his son, Jake.

Not many kids from Hueytown, Ala., actually had much of a reason then to dream about winning a Super Bowl.

Then Arians showed up.

"He's one of the first people that gave me that dream of getting a Super Bowl ring," Winston said before the Bucs played at Arizona two years ago. "At the camp, he brought his Pittsburgh Steelers (Super Bowl) ring and showed all of us. That was one of those times when I was just like, 'Man, I want to get me one of those rings.' ""

Arians remembers Winston, whose nickname is Jaboo, as an Alabama youth legend.

"Jaboo' has been a legend since he was in the ninth grade," Arians said before their first NFL meeting. "… I've been hearing about him, knowing about him for a long time. … Just a tremendous athlete. A very bright guy, but had a cannon for an arm. He was probably throwing 90 mile-an-hour fastballs back then in the ninth, 10th grade."

Arians makes a ton of sense for other reasons.

The Bucs need to win now. Assistants like Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Vikings defensive coordinator George Johnson and Cowboys defensive backs coach Kris Richard may become excellent NFL head coaches one day.

But the Bucs — and especially Winston and Licht — don't have the luxury of waiting for one of those men to grow into the position.

Winston is in the final year of his rookie contract and the Bucs have picked up his fifth-year option for $20.92-million. Licht is signed for 2019 and has a club option.

At this point in his life, Arians isn't shopping for green bananas, either.

He left Arizona after the 2017 season saying the game wasn't as much fun for him anymore. There also was talk of health problems.

So Arians took a job as a broadcaster at CBS to keep his hand in the game and hung out with his wife, Christine, at their lake house in Georgia.

But Arians has always loved a challenge and his success with quarterbacks is nearly unparalleled. Consider who he has won with: Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.

At 25, many people already have counted Winston out. Arians knows how that feels, too. The Steelers decided not to re-employ him after the 2011 season. At that point in his career, Arians was tired of the politics of the game until Chuck Pagano offered him the Colts offensive coordinator's job in 2012.

What happened next to Arians is part of NFL lore.

Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. Arians took over and led the Colts to a 9-3 record behind Luck, who was a rookie, and was named Associated Press' NFL Coach of the Year.

The Cardinals hired Arians in 2013 and he led them to double-digit wins his first two seasons and was named AP Coach of the Year again.

Arians will be confident he can fix Winston. And you can probably expect Winston to come back out of his shell.

Winston will feed off Arians' swagger. Licht will, too.

The Bucs will have to improve their defense and there is reason to believe Arians will hire former Jets head coach Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator. Maybe in two or three years, Bowles will be ready to take over as head coach. Defensive line coach Brentson Buckner has another year on his contract and worked for Arians in Arizona.

It's not like the cupboard is bare on offense. The Bucs have weapons and Arians knows it.

Mostly, Arians has another quarterback he believes in. Winston needs that right now.

"Growth and unbelievable potential, how good he can be,'' Arians has said of Winston. "I've known him a long time and I'm really proud of his growth. He's just going to get better and better.''

Contact Rick Stroud at Follow @NFLStroud