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Super Bowl 2021: Bruce Arians gets second wind as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians speaks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. Credit: AP/Michael Conroy

Some people retire and don’t know what to do with themselves. They kick around the house, find themselves underfoot of their spouse, and, especially when they come from a competitive field such as NFL coaching, yearn for another hit of adrenaline and dose of that feeling only a Sunday in the fall or winter can provide.

Not Bruce Arians, though. He had enough. When he walked away from his job as coach of the Cardinals after the 2017 season, having dealt with several health problems during his tenure there, he considered himself retired for good at the age of 65.

He found a job in broadcasting and said he was "totally" content knowing he would never again blow a whistle, run a practice or make an in-game decision.

"Doing the broadcasting was fun," he said (although he admitted that the travel was a grind). "I had no itch to come back."

 

Then the stars aligned. Jason Licht, the Tampa Bay general manager with whom Arians had worked in Arizona, needed a head coach. He called Arians to gauge his interest, and Arians started making his own calls to see how many of his "guys" he could muster for a staff. Byron Leftwich was available. Todd Bowles had just been fired from the Jets. These were men he’d worked with in other cities who he had a history with, some, like Bowles, going all the way back to their time together as a player and coach at Temple University.

"When all those assistants became available and we could put our whole group back together, my wife got excited," Bowles said. "When she got excited, I got excited. Then we were really, really looking forward to it and it’s been a blessing."

Two years after coming out of retirement, Arians is coaching the Bucs in Super Bowl LV on Sunday against Kansas City. Now 68, he is the oldest head coach to make his debut in the big game and, should he win, he’ll become the oldest to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

His counterpart on Sunday, Andy Reid, is 62. At a time when teams are falling over themselves to find the next hot coaching candidate — look at who the Giants and Jets have hired as their coaches in the past 13 months — it’s the two fogies who will be battling it out in Super Bowl LV. Doug Pederson and Gary Kubiak are the only head coaches under 60 to win the Super Bowl in the last seven years.

"We are a little bit older and there is experience that comes with that and I guess you could say wisdom with age," Reid said on Tuesday, referring to himself, Arians and other AARP-eligible coaches as "the Geritol crew."

"By chance a few of the older guys have gotten to this point," Reid continued. "I'd probably attribute that to good players, and then a little bit of experience there. In my case I'm fortunate to have a heck of a staff that I've been able to accumulate and gather here the last couple years. We've been very productive that way."

Perhaps it’s the fact that Arians, who had happily walked away, never thought he’d be back on such a stage that has allowed him to coach with house money during his two years with Tampa Bay so far (he said earlier this postseason that he has no plans to re-retire no matter the outcome of this season). The coach whose favorite saying is "no risk it, no biscuit" lives his entire life by that philosophy, whether that means going for it on fourth downs, aiming to acquire the greatest quarterback of all time, or — in terms a Florida retiree such he is can understand — playing a long par-5.

"I hit a lot of balls in the water going for it in two knowing I can’t get there, but I ain’t gonna get there unless I try," he said. "That one out of 10 that makes it, it’s a great feeling. That’s how I live life."

It’s what enabled him last February at the NFL Combine to answer a question about which free agent quarterback he might be interested in pursuing in the offseason with a direct and simple answer: Tom Brady.

"You can’t hit a home run unless you are going to swing for one," Arians said last week. "You can’t do anything special in life sitting on a fence…That’s how you live life. I dunno. Do you sit and live in a closet and try to be safe or do you go have some damn fun?"

Arians chose the latter when he signed on with the Bucs.

On Sunday, he’ll be putting for an eagle.

 

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