Bruce Arians, whose first taste of coaching came when he signed on as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech in 1975, waited nearly 40 years before he landed his dream job as a (non-interim) head coach in the NFL. At that point, he didn't wait at all to prove the assignment was long overdue, taking an Arizona Cardinals team that had won five games the year before and immediately guiding them to three straight double-digit-win seasons.
Actually, "wait" isn't really the right word to describe what Arians was doing between that first coaching gig at his alma mater and the fateful phone call from the Cardinals in January of 2013. He never stopped coaching, moving his family all around the country and coming into contact with many great football minds. He learned at the feet of the legendary Bear Bryant in Alabama in Bryant's last years, and was there to guide future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning in his first, formative years in the NFL.
All the connections Arians made over 40-plus years; all the coaches who helped groom him and all the coaches he has groomed; the players he tutored who later went into coaching; even the team captains on his squad back at Temple where he first experienced the joy and struggle of being a head coach; all of that served as a deep well to draw from when he was named head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month.
The Buccaneers named Arians their new coach on January 8, and by the time they formally introduced him at a press conference three days later his coaching staff was already rapidly coming together. Most of the 25 assistants who would join him over the next few weeks had some previous football connection to Arians and were eager to rekindle it. They knew that where Arians went, success usually followed.
"I’ve never been around a guy that has such magnetism about him that players and coaches just instantly want to follow him when he comes," said Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht, who years earlier had helped with the coaching search that led to Arians' hiring in Arizona. "We’re dealing with a lot of email, texts and phone calls right now with those coaches and we’re getting close to wrapping up his staff – the staff that he presented to us, that he wanted, day one when he walked in here."
The result was a staff that has experienced a lot of winning, that has been to and won Super Bowls, and that has turned around teams in the past. That last part is certainly appealing to the Buccaneers, who won five games last year and are trying to break an 11-year playoff drought. At the aforementioned press conference, Arians expressed his belief that the 2019 Buccaneers, with their current array of roster talent, are closer to winning than the squad he took over in Arizona in 2013.
Several of the coaches who helped with that instant Cardinal rebound are back to work with Arians again, including Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles and Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin. Arians has also reconnected with former colleagues from a long run of success in Pittsburgh, which included three Super Bowl appearances and two victories, such as Goodwin, Assistant Special Teams Coordinator Amos Jones and three Steeler players from that era in Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich, Outside Linebackers Coach Larry Foote and Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El.
In 2012, Arians went from the Steelers back to the Indianapolis Colts, where he was supposed to serve as the offensive coordinator but soon found himself as the interim head coach while Chuck Pagano was undergoing treatment for leukemia. Arians won the first of his two Associated Press Coach of the Year awards after guiding the Colts to the playoffs, and that success helped launch him to his own gig in Arizona. His two stints in Indy allowed him to work with such current Buc assistants as Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen and Offensive Line Coach Joe Gilbert.
In an NFL that is trending toward younger and less-experienced head coaching hires in the wake of Sean McVay's success in Los Angeles, the Buccaneers turned to the ultra-experienced Arians and in the process got an entire staff that is loaded with years in the profession and very familiar with winning. That's true for some on the collegiate level, too, but remains relevant even when we only consider these coaches' NFL careers.
All told, Arians and his assistants have combined to log 220 seasons of coaching in the NFL. They have combined to experience 91 playoff seasons and 3,520 regular-season games. The combined record of Arians and his entire staff – amassing the individual records for each assistant for any season they were on an NFL coaching staff – is 1,889-1,617-14. That's a winning percentage of .539.
Obviously, that includes some overlapping seasons, but that's pretty much the point. Arians has worked with many excellent coaches through the years, they have combined to find success at multiple NFL stops, and he has brought a group of them together to do it again.
"Trust, loyalty, respect is what we build everything on and it starts there," said Arians of his crew of assistants. "When this staff comes together, they either played for me, coached with me – four of those guys would have been captains for me at Temple University back in the ‘80s. Clyde Christensen was on my staff back then. We’ve got history – I think that’s very important because we’re all in it together. It only takes one guy to have a different agenda to split the whole thing up."
Arians helped three Pittsburgh teams make the Super Bowl and ended up with two rings. He has been on an NFL staff for 25 previous seasons and 15 of those have ended in the postseason. His own personal record as an NFL coach is 238-10-2 for a remarkable .598 winning percentage. That includes a 58-33-1 mark as a head coach. He has been to five conference championship games.
Goodwin has also been on three Super Bowl staffs, collecting one title. Christensen has helped four teams advance to conference championship games and two to the Super Bowl, coming out with one league title. Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong has one Super Bowl appearance on his resume; Jones has two. Bowles, Leftwich, Foote, Randle El and Specialist Coach Chris Boniol all won Super Bowls as players. Heck, this staff even has a pair of Olympic Gold Medals, courtesy of Speed & Conditioning Coach Roger Kingdom, a champion hurdler who previously worked with Arians in Arizona.
In his own career, Christensen, who had long stints in Tampa and Indianapolis, has seen his teams win at a .631 clip and has been to the playoffs in 17 of 22 seasons. Goodwin's squads in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Arizona have compiled a combined .645 winning percentage and have nine playoff appearances in 14 years. Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross, who intersected with Arians in Arizona but had already found great success in Minnesota, San Diego and Oakland, has enjoyed a .579 winning percentage on his teams and six playoff trips in 13 years.
There are many individual success stories on Arians' new Buccaneers staff, in years with Arians and years without. There's no doubt that these coaches have all benefitted from connecting in the past, and it's the Buccaneers hope that the team will reap the rewards of them reconnecting again in Tampa.