A Super Bowl is within reach, but is it worth the risk to Bruce Arians?

John Romano | The Bucs coach will take precautions in the age of coronavirus, but he might be better off staying away.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has the quarterback and the roster to accomplish something special this year, but the risk is high for a 67-year-old cancer survivor in the age of the coronavirus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has the quarterback and the roster to accomplish something special this year, but the risk is high for a 67-year-old cancer survivor in the age of the coronavirus. [ Times (2019) ]
Published July 7, 2020

In some ways, Bruce Arians is the story of today’s America.

Smart enough to know better, but still brazen enough to defy a killer virus.

His decision to continue coaching the Buccaneers is personal, but the deliberation is universal. Just how deep into the darkness are we all willing to go against an unseen enemy?

I’m not faulting Arians for telling Tampa Bay Times beat writer Rick Stroud that he has no intention of walking away from the sidelines because of the coronavirus. Arians certainly seems to have made the decision with his eyes wide open, and with the acknowledgement that accommodations will have to be arranged.

It’s a calculation that many of us are having to make these days, from hairdressers to handymen. The difference is in the motivation. Plenty of Floridians have no choice but to return to work even as the positive rate on COVID-19 testing eclipses 16 percent. Electric bills and mortgage payments depend on it.

Arians, however, is chasing something besides a paycheck. He is willing to risk his life — and that, sadly, is not hyperbole for a cancer survivor during a pandemic — for a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. Forty-five years into his career, Arians has a legitimate opportunity to win a Super Bowl as a head coach.

But is it worth it?

Related: Two Bucs players test positive for the coronavirus

That is not a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no. First of all, none of us knows the depth of sacrifice, or the amount of hard work or the number of sleepless nights across five decades that led Arians to this moment. We all have our white whales, and this is his.

The other factor is how many precautions Arians is willing to take. He is not treating coronavirus like a joke or a hoax. He has made a public service announcement about social distancing and wearing masks. He quarantined himself at a rural vacation spot in Georgia. He is contemplating ways to keep his distance from large groups of players and coaches.

And, let’s face it, Arians, 67, has been more of a general than a platoon leader in Tampa Bay. He was already making concessions to his age and health last year before the virus was on anyone’s radar. And I have a feeling Arians will probably pull back even farther than he has publicly said.

He has great trust in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and it wouldn’t be shocking if there were days when Arians stays off the field and evaluates workouts via video.

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The Bucs did not hire Arians to micromanage the roster. They brought him in to create a culture of expectation and accountability, along with his offensive playbook and credibility. All of that was established last year, and doesn’t need daily reinforcing.

Think of Arians making decisions and pulling switches as the man behind the curtain. Or, in this case, the man behind the mask.

And yet, having said all of that, I still fear for Arians.

This virus is careening out of control in Florida, and political divides seem to be keeping us from responding appropriately. If eating at a restaurant in some parts of the state now seems too dangerous, how can we justify 100 or so young men breathing, sweating and bleeding on each other on a football field? We’ve already seen the virus spread rapidly through college football programs that weren’t even in full practice mode this summer.

It might only be an inconvenience for most healthy, young athletes, but it’s something entirely different for a coach with an AARP card and a medical file as thick as a playbook.

I suppose it’s possible the curve might flatten again before the regular season begins in September, but it’s hard to imagine positive tests and hospitalizations reversing themselves by the time training camp is scheduled to open later this month.

My first wish for Arians would be that he follows every precaution and gets the Super Bowl he so desperately wants and deserves.

If not, I would hope the season gets cancelled before he ever takes that risk.