The most chaotic offseason in Bucs and NFL history just got a bit more surreal Wednesday night: Coach Bruce Arians is retiring to take a front-office role effective immediately.
Veteran defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will replace him as part of a succession plan that Arians said had been in the works a few weeks. Bowles was informed Monday that the Bucs will do away with the remaining two years on his current contract and replace it with a new five-year, head-coaching deal.
A two-time cancer survivor, Arians — who turns 70 in October — said in a lengthy statement issued through the team that the decision was not health-related. He made only a cameo at the annual NFL meetings that wrapped up earlier Wednesday, exiting due to what the team called a personal matter.
“Before you start thinking this is about my health, don’t,” Arians said in the 12-paragraph statement. “This is the best I have felt in many years and I’m looking forward to helping this team continue winning through my new role.
“I wanted to ensure when I walked away that Todd Bowles would have the best opportunity to succeed,” Arians added.
“So many head coaches come into situations where they are set up for failure, and I didn’t want that for Todd. Tom (Brady’s) decision to come back, along with (general manager) Jason (Licht) and his staff doing another great job of keeping the core of this team intact during free agency, confirmed for me that it was the right time to pass the torch to Todd.”
Arians retires with an 89-51-1 regular-season record as an NFL head coach, including his interim season with the Colts in 2012, when he stepped in while Chuck Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia and led the team to a 9-3 record and playoff berth.
He retired for health reasons after five mostly successful seasons (and two playoff berths) in Arizona in 2017 but was lured from a one-year retirement by Licht. He arrived in Tampa with a bluntness, salty charm and a vertical offensive philosophy spawning his “no risk-it, no biscuit” mantra.
“In my opinion, he is a Hall of Fame coach, so it is difficult for our football team to lose that type of leader,” Licht said in a statement. “However, I am excited to have him continuing his contributions to our franchise in his new capacity.”
An ardent proponent of diversity, Arians had three Black coordinators and hired two women for his on-field staff. Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar became the first female coaches to win a Super Bowl.
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Arians endured a 7-9 season in 2019, grimacing as Jameis Winston tossed 30 interceptions and the kicking game foundered in critical moments. But the franchise’s fortunes transformed with the signing of Brady — then 42 — in March 2020.
In the last two seasons, Tampa Bay has won 24 regular-season games, five playoffs contests and a Super Bowl. Arians exits with 31 regular-season wins, fourth-most of any of the franchise’s 12 coaches.
His .633 winning percentage is by far the best in Bucs history.
“When Bruce arrived in Tampa Bay three years ago, he spoke about establishing a winning culture and adding another Super Bowl championship for our community,” co-owner Joel Glazer said through the team.
“He delivered on both of those promises, and our family is deeply appreciative for all that he has accomplished during his time as our head coach. As impressive as his coaching accomplishments have been, his legacy will live on through the doors of opportunity that he has opened for minority coaches and women in football.”
Brady was informed that Arians planned to step down and Bowles would succeed him as head coach either the same day or a day after the quarterback announced he was ending his retirement on March 13. The team insists it was not related to Brady’s decision.
Brady lauded Arians, with whom he won his seventh Super Bowl ring, via Instagram.
“Thank you BA (Arians), for all that you have done for me and our team,” Brady posted. “You are an incredible man and coach, and it was a privilege to play for you.
“You are a true NFL legend and pioneer for all the work you have done to make the league more diverse and inclusive.”
Bowles, 58, becomes the NFL’s sixth current minority head coach. He compiled a 24-40 record as Jets coach from 2015-18 before a career resurgence of sorts with the Bucs, highlighted by his unit’s neutralization of Patrick Mahomes in a 31-9 rout of Kansas City in Super Bowl 55.
“It was evident to everyone in our organization over the last three years that Todd deserved to be an NFL head coach,” Licht said via the statement.
“I have always felt that if this situation ever arose, we had the best candidate for the job already in-house. Todd’s football acumen is well-documented and has been on full display with the growth and maturation of our defense since his arrival.”
The 2021 Bucs ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (82.5), first in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.72), third in takeaways (82) and sacks (142), and ninth in yards allowed per game (334.1). Bowles interviewed for at least two NFL head-coaching vacancies earlier this year but — to Arians’ disgust — was bypassed.
“I am appreciative of the Glazer family and Jason Licht for having faith in me to take on this role, and to Coach Arians for his support and guidance over the past four decades,” Bowles said in a statement.
“Tampa has become home for my family, and we are excited to remain part of this community for years to come. As an organization, we have all the pieces in place to continue the winning standard that has been established here in recent years. I am eager to get started with our players, coaching staff, and front office in preparation for the 2022 season.”
Glazer called Bowles “an outstanding coach and one of the league’s most respected defensive minds.”
“He is a natural leader who has a great understanding of all phases of the game and a passion for teaching and developing young talent,” Glazer added. “His defensive unit played a critical role in our run to winning Super Bowl 55, and he has transformed our defense into one of the league’s finest over the past three seasons.
“We are thrilled to have him leading our team into this next era of Buccaneer football.”
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.
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