TAMPA — Before this goes too far, can we come to agreement on this point?
Bruce Arians is a treasure. He’s clever, loyal, competitive and funny as can be. He changed the culture around the Buccaneers, and he deserves as much credit for winning Super Bowl 55 as anyone else.
I would happily stand on Bill Belichick’s coffee table and tell him he was completely outsmarted by Arians when it came to understanding Tom Brady’s true worth in 2020.
On the other hand, he couldn’t carry Mother Teresa’s halo.
Isn’t that what we’re being asked to believe this morning? That Arians is the most magnanimous sumbitch to ever walk an NFL sideline? That he decided to resign as Tampa Bay’s head coach because he wanted to set his assistant coaches up for glory?
I’m not sure Gandhi was a big pigskin guy, but even he would say that sounded messed up.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. This doesn’t mean Arians’ stated rationale for stepping down on Wednesday was complete balderdash. It’s just that, considering the totality of evidence, it’s likely there were other factors at play here.
You can take the coach and the Bucs at their word, or you can believe it was an awfully convenient narrative that managed to portray both Arians and Brady in the best light possible.
Barring further revelations, you have three basic scenarios to choose from:
1. For whatever reason, Brady let it be known he would be more comfortable with a change in leadership.
2. As Arians nears his 70th birthday, there were enough health concerns that it made sense to step away now.
3. After getting history’s most successful quarterback to unretire and signing a boatload of free agents, Arians looked around and said, “Eh, who needs another Super Bowl boat parade?”
You do not have to be a believer in extraterrestrials, unicorns or Tucker Carlson to wonder if enough dots connect to trace this back to Brady’s recent decision to return for the 2022 season.
At the time of Brady’s original retirement announcement there were whispers that he wasn’t enthralled with Arians’ somewhat hands-off approach to coaching.
Later, there were reports that Brady might be interested in playing in San Francisco if a trade could be worked out. The inference was that Brady was no longer enthusiastic about playing in Tampa Bay.
Of course, that seemed to be put to rest when Brady decided to unretire after 40 days, but the timing of Arians’ announcement this week makes it all seem curiouser and curiouser.
And, please, do not point to Brady’s effusive praise of Arians on social media Wednesday night as proof that they were the Frick and Frack of football. What would you expect Brady to say? That it was his dagger in Arians’ back? That he was glad the Glazer family added head coach to his list of job titles, along with general manager and quarterback?
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You could also wonder aloud about the way Arians handled the narrative. He broke the news of his retirement to Peter King of NBC Sports and Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that included the chivalrous claim that he just wanted to set up Todd Bowles and the rest of his staff for success.
But King’s story included the news that Arians had not yet informed his players or most of his coaches about his decision. Almost as if Arians wanted to make sure this version of events was widely reported before taking the chance of unsavory speculation leaking out of the locker room.
Does that mean Arians’ concern about his staff’s welfare is bogus? Absolutely not.
He has been the biggest cheerleader for Bowles and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich the past two years when head-coaching jobs have come open in the NFL. One of his reasons for coming out of retirement himself three years ago was because his old crew of assistants was available to join him in Tampa Bay.
So, no, it is not hard to imagine that their fortunes played a role in his decision.
But whenever he was questioned about his future plans in the past two months, Arians has been emphatic that he would continue coaching. He even threw out the possibility that he would resume calling plays on offense if Leftwich were to be hired elsewhere.
Here’s another way of looking at it:
Arians could have gone out on top after Super Bowl 55 but decided to take a shot at another championship. He could have followed Brady into retirement last month but expressed enthusiasm about reloading the roster.
So when did he finally decide retirement was the right move? Shortly after another Super Bowl possibility fell into his lap. And, along with that, a potential golden ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Call me crazy, but that sounds odd.
Maybe it would have been more easily explained if the team’s CEO was taking calls on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, Tom Brady was not available for questions.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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