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Roots of Bruce Arians, Bucs coaching staff stretch from Temple to Tampa

Several members of Arians’ staff played or coached for him at Temple more than 30 years ago.
Then-Temple coach Bruce Arians announces that he will not return for another season at a press conference in 1988 in Philadelphia. Arians coached the Owls for six years, posting a 27-39 record.
Then-Temple coach Bruce Arians announces that he will not return for another season at a press conference in 1988 in Philadelphia. Arians coached the Owls for six years, posting a 27-39 record. [ GEORGE WIDMAN | Associated Press (1988) ]
Published Feb. 2, 2021

The eager new coach, barely out of his 20s and fresh off a two-year residency under Bear Bryant, wasted zero time breeding contempt among the collection of players he had inherited.

Bruce Arians required every member of the 1982 Temple football team to complete a series of 330- and 160-yard sprints within a specific time — an “Olympic time,” the way Todd Bowles recalls it.

“I trained all summer,” said Bowles, then a second-year Owls defensive back. “Ran as hard as I could, training to get ready for something, and the guy I trained with ran before me and he passed out and they took him off on a stretcher. So there was no hope in me, and I was just trying to finish.”

The next morning, Arians — disgusted at his team’s lack of conditioning — had everyone back out at 6 o’clock to try again, Bowles recalled. A championship team wasn’t spawned in that pre-dawn purgatory, but some championship coaching resumes were.

Four guys who played for Arians at Temple, and one of his Owls assistants, are members of his sprawling Bucs coaching staff that will try to capture a Lombardi Trophy on Sunday.

“At that point, to see the determination and the drive that he had — not taking defeat as an answer, and trying to get everybody in shape — you knew you had something going right there,” Bowles said.

Bowles, running backs coach Todd McNair, special teams coach Keith Armstrong and cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross all played at Temple for Arians, hired at age 30 to lead an Owls program competing then as an independent. All except Ross played at least three years for Arians.

Bucs safeties coach Nick Rapone served on Arians’ staff all six of his seasons with the Owls, the last four as defensive coordinator. Even assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust attended Temple when Arians was coach and her ex-husband played for him.

“It’s very rewarding,” Bowles said.

“It’s great to come to work every day. The camaraderie is outstanding. It’s non-stop comedy, but we do put in a lot of work, and it’s great to get up in the morning and go to work with guys that you like being around.”

Not that they always gravitated toward Arians.

Related: Why Bruce Arians still 'has love' for Kansas City

After stops at three previous colleges, including Virginia Tech (his alma mater) and Alabama (during Bryant’s final two seasons), Arians motivated and micro-managed with equal fervor while cutting his head coaching teeth at the north Philadelphia inner-city program with no on-campus stadium and exactly two bowl appearances to its name.

On an A Football Life episode chronicling his career on NFL Network, Arians said he didn’t know how to delegate, ultimately developing chronic migraines.

“I thought I knew everything and didn’t know (expletive),” he said Monday.

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“But Peter Liacouras was a fantastic president to work for, and (former Owls athletic director) Gavin White. God bless (former legendary Owls basketball coach) John Chaney. ... I probably learned as much coaching watching him practice and how he taught his guys than just about anybody I worked with other than Coach Bryant and Coach (Jimmy) Sharp (his Virginia Tech coach).”

The prevailing lesson he gleaned from Chaney (who passed away last week at 89): Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth, no matter how ugly it comes out. It’s coaching, not criticism.

Nearly 40 years later, that philosophy remains an Arians modus operandi.

“That’s the thing you appreciate about him: He’s straight up, and he’s honest with you,” said Armstrong, who arrived at Temple as a running back but switched to the secondary. “That’s all you really ask for as a player or a coach. Now you may not like what he says, but he’s honest with you. I think you respect him for that. But that’s what remained the same over the years.”

That candor — and authentic concern for his players — forged loyalty, trust and love, but few victories. Arians posted a pair of 6-5 seasons and earned three wins against Pitt (which the program hadn’t defeated since 1945 before his arrival), but was fired following the 1988 season. The Owls went 27-39 on his watch.

Not all aspiring head coaches sprint out of the figurative chute at an “Olympic time.” No matter.

The Temple guys had seen enough.

“He was a great motivator, great coach and he’s a great person,” McNair said. “We never question B.A.s loyalty and his genuineness, and that translates on any level. At that time, we didn’t know what the NFL’s about ... but we know as a man and as a coach, he was always going to be successful.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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