TAMPA — The biggest debate may be whether his bust will be wearing a Kangol hat.
If Bruce Arians wins another Super Bowl, he almost certainly would have the credentials for entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In fact, his accomplishments are worthy consideration now. Arians’ winning percentage of .603 is better than that of Jimmy Johnson (.556) and Tom Flores (.527), both of whom are being enshrined in Canton, Ohio, this weekend.
Twice Arians was the NFL’s Coach of the Year, in Indianapolis in 2012 when he took over for Chuck Pagano after Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia; and in 2014 with the Arizona Cardinals.
Arians won two Super Bowls as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has spent four decades coaching in the NFL.
Then there’s the quarterbacks he coached: Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady.
The self-proclaimed quarterback whisperer may have failed with Jameis Winston, but he won it all with Brady, a then-43-year-old quarterback most believed was a poor fit for Arians’ devil-may-care deep passing offense.
What’s more, the Bucs became the first team to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium and did so during a pandemic. Voters love historical accomplishments.
Arians’ postseason record is 5-2, including four consecutive wins last season. His path to winning the Bucs’ second Lombardi Trophy came on the road against iconic quarterbacks such as the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers before returning home to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Keep in mind, too, that Arians’ story is unique. He didn’t become an NFL head coach until he was 61, and it took Pagano’s illness for him to get that opportunity.
Arians retired after five seasons with the Cardinals, who he took to an NFC Championship Game in 2015, due to health reasons. He is a three-time cancer survivor who worked one season as an NFL analyst for CBS.
Of course, winning two Super Bowls doesn’t guarantee you entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a head coach. Until this year, Johnson and Flores couldn’t knock the door down in Canton.
George Seifert, who won two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and owns a 124-67 record, including 10-5 in the postseason, has never even received serious consideration by voters. It didn’t help that he went 16-32 in three seasons at Carolina, making some wonder if he inherited a dynasty from Bill Walsh.
Other NFL head coaches Arians eventually will be competing with depending on when he retires include the Patriots’ Bill Belichick (a shoo-in when eligible); Chiefs and Eagles coach Andy Reid (who has one Super Bowl win with Kansas City and three appearances in the big game); Raiders, Broncos and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan (who won back-to-back Super Bowls with John Elway and Denver); Eagles and Rams coach Dick Vermeil; Packers and Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren; Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer (whose teams never reached the Super Bowl); Chargers innovative coach Don Coryell and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Eventually, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will be in that mix, too.
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There is another important aspect to Arians’ career other than his longevity in the NFL: Voters also consider a player’s or coach’s impact on the league.
Arians has always been a champion of minority coaches. Byron Leftwich (offensive coordinator), Todd Bowles (defensive coordinator) and Keith Armstrong (special teams coordinator), who are Black, were all former players. Also, assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, is another key member of the Super Bowl champs.
“That was not by design,” Arians said. “Those are the best coaches I know.”
Arians was angry that Leftwich, 41, didn’t even score an interview despite seven head-coaching openings. The Bucs have the third-best scoring offense over the past two seasons.
“I was very, very (ticked) that Byron didn’t get at least an interview this year for the job that he’s done,” Arians said. “I get way too much credit and so does Tom Brady for the job that Byron has done. I’m throwing Keith Armstrong in the mix, too.”
Moreover, Arians has increased the diversity of his staff by hiring two female assistant coaches: assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach/physical therapist Maral Javadifar.
“A player is going to ask the coach, ‘How are you going to make me better?” Arians said. “He really doesn’t care whether the answer comes from a male or female, Black, white, brown, yellow — just help me get better. The best teachers I had were all different races, all different ethnic groups, male and female. If you can teach, you can coach.”
Arians can do both as well as any in the game. When he was hired, general manager Jason Licht told Arians his goal was to have a statue of the affable head coach built outside Raymond James Stadium. Achieving that goal would mean the Bucs were successful.
Maybe Arians should think bigger. How about a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
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