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Jameis Winston: Bucs’ hiring of Bruce Arians was ‘a surreal moment’

For the first time, the Bucs quarterback shares his thoughts on playing for the man who introduced him to a Super Bowl ring.
Jameis Winston (3) talks to the media after the Buccaneers' 34-32 loss to Atlanta Sunday. Hours later, Tampa Bay announced it fired head coach Dirk Koetter. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Jan. 14
Updated Jan. 14

TAMPA — Of all the things Bruce Arians has said since being introduced as the Bucs head coach last week, this probably meant the most to Jameis Winston.

"It's his team," Arians said.

Winston, the Bucs' 25-year-old quarterback, exchanged greetings with Arians at the team's training facility Thursday. But those words, spoken later in his news conference with confidence and conviction, is what Winston needed to hear.

"It means a lot to me, man," Winston said in his first interview since Arians was hired. "And that's just how he is, he stands behind his players and I'm happy our team gets to see that side of him. And I just can't wait to get in the building and work with him."

There was excitement in Winston's voice Monday when he recalled hearing the news that the Bucs had nabbed Arians.

"I was very excited," Winston said. "It's funny how things come around full circle. This is the man that introduced me to the Super Bowl ring, so I definitely want to get one with him.

"It's just neat that he's my coach now. It's really, like, it's a surreal moment that how things have come back and forth."

•••

Of course, Winston's brief meeting last week with Arians wasn't their first encounter. By now you know the story of when Winston was about 14, he attended a youth football camp in Birmingham, Ala., run by Arians and his son, Jake.

When he began showing off his arm in a 7-on-7 tournament at the camp, Winston only knew that Arians was an NFL coach.

"I saw him from a distance," Winston said. "I didn't know his face that well, but I knew Bruce Arians was there. I just knew I got to compete against an NFL coach at his camp."

Arians already had heard of Winston because Jake lived in Birmingham and kept telling him about the budding superstar from Hueytown, Ala.

"First of all, he was a bright student and an unbelievable athlete," Arians said. "So you knew, and I followed him, because he was a legend in Birmingham and my son was living in Birmingham then."

It was at the youth football camp that Arians let Winston slip the Super Bowl ring he won with the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers over his finger

"When you play football, that's something you grow up wanting," Winston said. "Even though I won a Heisman Trophy and that's something you dream of doing when you play college football, when you play in the NFL, you dream of winning a Super Bowl and I got a chance to put on his Super Bowl ring as a teenager so that definitely catapulted my dreams to become an NFL quarterback and hopefully win a Super Bowl one day."

•••

Those dreams seemed more distant this season. It's fair to say 2018 proved to be the most difficult of Winston's NFL career, if not in football. While serving a three-game suspension for violating the league's player conduct policy during the Bucs' 2-1 start, Winston could have no contact with the team. He took over for Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter in Week 5 at Atlanta but was benched after only three games when he threw four interceptions in a loss at Cincinnati.

Whatever loss of confidence Winston may have suffered will be restored with Arians having a stronger voice for him in the organization.

Although Winston has never said a disparaging word about Dirk Koetter, or vice versa, there came a point after the Bengals game when Koetter clearly didn't trust him with the ball. When Winston returned to the lineup after being benched for three games, he was a different quarterback.

He threw 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in the final six games of the season, including a Hail Mary and a deflected pass. Winston's passer rating was 97.7 during that stretch.

•••

Arians doesn't have a magic wand to make all the turnovers stop. But Winston welcomes a fresh start with a new coach.

"I really just have to get back to playing Jameis Winston football, man," Winston said. "That season, it was a very odd season. I really wish I could've been in the locker room the first three weeks with the team because we started off so fast and to miss those opportunities to be in the locker room with your family and experience that, you know, that momentum that we had, it's a loss. It's really a loss.

"So that kind of made the year very odd. The back and forth with the quarterback situation made the year even odder. Getting benched, it was an odd year. The good thing about that is it's over. I can build off that and head into this New Year with a fresh start and definitely hopes for better results this season."

Arians has said he believes the quarterback roulette between Winston and Fitzpatrick hurt both. He prefers to designate Winston as the starter and create competition for the backup spot.

"That's my philosophy. I think sometimes, they were both looking over their shoulder," Arians said. "One would do well for one week and then struggle and then it was 'Let's put the other one back in.' That is not me. If we have a guy, he's our guy."

•••

Winston is well aware of the roll call of players that have benefited from the man they call the Quarterback Whisperer: Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer.

"I mean, it's a testament to who he is as a football coach," Winston said. "He's been around arguably the best quarterbacks to play the game.

Everywhere he's been he's taken them to the playoffs or to a Super Bowl so it just shows the accolades he's bringing to the table already and who he's worked with. He's been in the game a long time so I'm happy to get a chance to work with him."

Arians expects a lot from his quarterback. He likes to push the ball downfield, sometimes at the risk of protecting the passer. But Winston believes in the system and believes it's a perfect fit.

"Just using Arizona, I mean Carson Palmer had some of the best years of his career," he said. "That was really good so I can't really wait to watch that and see how I can find my comfort zone in this offense. But from what I know of, it's really similar to our recent offense."

Arians' staff also should benefit Winston. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played 10 seasons in the NFL.

"I think when you got a guy in that room that's played quarterback at a high level, it helps the quarterback especially from a relationship standpoint because that guy understands what we're going through on a play to play basis," Winston said. "They probably can see what we're seeing and get a better feel as opposed to guys who have never really experienced it."

•••

But as Winston knows, coaches coach and players play. Like Arians' said, it's Winston's team now.

"Just like myself, we're all excited to have B.A. and we know he's going to bring a lot of great things to the team along with his coaching staff," Winston said. "But as players, we got to go out there and play our best football.

"We definitely have the pieces to win. You saw that when the two teams we beat (the Saints and Eagles) were playing each other in the playoffs (Sunday) night. We definitely got the pieces to win here and we will win."

Contact Rick Stroud at stroud@tampabay.com. Follow him @nflstroud.

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