FAB 2. All Or Nothing With Arians: Coaching
There hasn’t been a head coaching hire by Tampa Bay that has registered more fan and media approval than that of Bruce Arians last month. In my two decades of covering Bucs football, the Arians hype has only been matched by that created by the Glazers’ daring trade for Jon Gruden back in 2002.
Combine the fanfare of the Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith and Dirk Koetter hires and they don’t come close to that for Arians. I know this from talking to folks in the Bucs ticket office, which has been revitalized over the last month, in addition to looking at PewterReport.com’s own web traffic statistics.
January 2019 was our busiest traffic month – ever. And that distinction is typically reserved for high-traffic months like March (NFL free agency), April (NFL Draft), August (Bucs training camp) or September (Bucs regular season kickoff). There have been a couple of big Januarys in the past when Schiano was fired and Smith was hired in 2014, and in 2016 when Smith was fired and Koetter was hired – but nothing like this past January.
Arians is different from those other coaching hires – not because he has two Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh or the fact that he’s a two-time NFL Coach of the Year. Not only is Arians quite the character – with a whole host of accomplishments – he has more material to research from an NFL Films A Football Life documentary to his The Quarterback Whisperer autobiography to his the All Or Nothing documentary on the 2015 Arizona Cardinals on Amazon Prime.
I’m three chapters into The Quarterback Whisper, which I highly recommend, but I spent the last week watching the 8-hour All Or Nothing series on Arians’ 2015 Cardinals team, wanting to do my homework on him, assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, safeties coach Nick Rapone and outside linebackers coach Larry Foote. There is also plenty of former Cardinals and Bucs defensive line coach Brentson Buckner featured, too.
I took plenty of notes on Arians from All Or Nothing that I’m going to share with you over the next two SR’s Fab 5 sections. The first section will be about Arians’ practice and game day demeanor, and the second section will discuss how he handles personnel issues – and I’ll apply this to the present day Buccaneers.
Here are some of my notes on Arians’ coaching style.
The Big Takeaway
The first thing you’ll notice about Arians on the practice field this summer at Bucs training camp is that he uses some salty language, which is perfectly fine with me. Tony Dungy he ain’t, and at times while I watched All Or Nothing, Arians’ sailor mouth made Jon Gruden look like Mr. Rogers.
Arians could give a master class on profanity that would surpass that of Gruden, former Bucs assistants Rod Marinelli and Joe Cullen. Arians, a brass, blunt talker, uses the profanity to drive points home – with emphasis.
When Arians talks, his players listen – and obey. He means business and my big takeaway from watching All Or Nothing is that he will definitely bring much-needed swagger and accountability to the Buccaneers.
Quotes That Matter
“We had dinner with Bruce and at one point he drops the F-bomb three times in one sentence,” said Cardinals president Michael Bidwell, regarding Arians’ interview for the head-coaching job in 2013. “And I stopped and I sat back and I thought, ‘noun, verb and adjective – very good!’”
Episode 1 of All Or Nothing began with Arians’ simple message at the start of the 2015 campaign – a season that would end with a 13-3 regular season record and a loss at Carolina in the NFC Championship Game.
“Every year in the NFL, it’s a new team,” Arians said. “As far as goals go – we have one: putting a f*@$ing ring on our finger. Not a Super Bowl – a Super Bowl ring. You go to win the bitch.”
Arians is fond of using veteran players and team captains, such as Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, as lieutenants to talk to the players to send a message whether it’s during practice or during a game. He’ll do the same in Tampa Bay with the Bucs’ leaders. Sometimes a message is even more effective coming from a peer, and Arians knows it.
With 1:44 left in the 2015 season opener against New Orleans and Arizona up, 24-19, Arians opted to get the game-clinching first down by throwing the ball rather than risk running the ball and having to punt it back to Drew Brees. During Week 1, we see “no risk it, no biscuit” in action.
The result? A 55-yard touchdown reception by rookie running back David Johnson down the sideline to seal the win, which prompted Arians to tell his Cardinals after the game, “Winners finish.”
After winning at Chicago 48-23 to start the season 2-0, Arians tempered the enthusiasm in a team meeting.
“Congratulations on getting to this point at 2-0,” Arians said. “What’s it done? Brought a lot of attention all of a sudden. Alright? Everybody wants to write about how great you are. How you are going to the Super Bowl, but 2-0 don’t get you to the Super Bowl. We still ain’t s#*@, alright? We ain’t done nothing yet. A team’s success borders on one thing – the process. Let’s go to work.”
Arians believes that winning is a process rooted in preparation in the classroom and on the grass at practice. In the first practice after the Cardinals’ 2-0 start, Arians is enraged at one point, mumbling, “That f*@$ing d#@$wad” about an unknown player. If he’s not happy, Arians, who is a perfectionist, will let you know.
The Cardinals started off 3-0 after an absolute 47-7 dismantling of the San Francisco 49ers. James Bettcher’s Arizona defense recorded two pick-sixes against Colin Kaepernick in the rout. One of the officials came over to Arians near the end of the game and joked, “We were expecting a lot of profanity from you and didn’t get it, so we’re disappointed.”
Arians replied, “I know man, I was too calm today. I didn’t even raise my own blood pressure.”
Afterwards in the locker room, it’s clear that Arians’ “we ain’t s#*@” message has worked so far.
“Good job – helluva win,” Arians said. “That’s all it was – a helluva win. We ain’t s#*@ yet, but we’re starting to smell a little better.”
The Cardinals host the Rams in Week 4, and Arians prepped his team for a revenge game after Arizona won 12-6 last year in St. Louis in Week 11 and talked some trash after the game.
“This one will be different – this will be a bloodbath,” Arians told his players in a team meeting. “And I’m sure right away the comments from last year’s Thursday night game will be out there – about them being perennial 8-8s.”
Video of Arians’ post-game press conference following the Week 11 win in 2014 is cued up during the All Or Nothing episode: “I think that was one of the best wins that I’ve ever been around or ever been a part of in my coaching career. Everybody didn’t want to talk all that stuff about how great their defense is. I think they saw a good defense tonight – it was in red and white. I love it when everybody says you don’t have a chance to win. There’s an 11-3 team (the Cardinals) and a team that’s always 8-8 (the Rams). You figure it out.”
Back to Arians in the Cardinals team meeting prior to Week 4 in the 2015 season.
“You’re going to hear about some statements made after last year’s game in St. Louis that I made. I talked a lot of s#*@ about a perennial 8-8 team versus a team that had 11 wins. About a defense that was in red – not blue. I expect you guys to have my back.”
I love how Arians had the guts to talk crap about the opponent and put the onus on his players to back him up. That’s something I had wished Dirk Koetter would have done in Tampa Bay, but he always seemed on the defensive after he said he wanted a “bad ass” football team.
Arians is never on the defensive. He’s always attack, attack, attack.
The only problem was that the players didn’t have Arians’ back in Week 4 – although it wasn’t for lack of want-to. Johnson fumbled on the opening kick, to which Arians reassured him, “It’s okay – you never lose the game on the first play.”
Everything that could wrong did go wrong for Arizona against St. Louis, including a rare fumble by Fitzgerald.
The Cardinals had fallen to 3-1 after a 24-22 loss to the Rams. It was interesting to see how Arians handled a loss in the post-game locker room.
“Just sit right there for a second because I don’t want the feeling to go away quick,” Arians said. “We let somebody come into our house and be more physical than we were, and make more plays than we made. Let’s make sure that never happens again.”
In the team meeting room days after the loss to the Rams, Arians said: “The one thing that we talk about every year after that first loss – you’re going to lose one sooner or later – but you never lose two in a row if you have true character and leadership on your football team.”
Arians is very demanding on the practice field and isn’t afraid to make it known when he’s unhappy.
“It’s a good thing we’re playing touch,” Arians yelled. “Hey you vets, this isn’t good enough the way we are playing on defense. We’re gaining eight yards every damn snap! There’s another one – no f*@$ing tackle! That’s a 10-yard gain! I guess we’re going to be satisfied with them running the ball down our damn throats! Break down and make the tackle! That’s horses#*@! They’ll run for 200 f*@$ing yards if we play like this!”
Following a 42-17 win at Detroit, the Cardinals headed to Pittsburgh to face off against Arians’ former team, the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t playing, so Michael Vick got the start.
“Defend every blade of grass,” Arians told his defense at kickoff.
Vick hurt his knee in the game and third-string quarterback Landry Jones came in and threw a touchdown on his first NFL pass to Martavis Bryant. The Steelers led, 18-13, with 2:25 left when quarterback Carson Palmer threw a costly interception in the end zone. With Landry backed up near his goal line on third down, Arians anticipated the Cardinals defense holding and forcing a punt.
“Hey we’re going to get it back with a short field,” Arians told Fitzgerald. “Larry, go pick [Palmer] up. It’s turnover time, let’s hunt on this kid.”
But “the kid,” Landry, hit Bryant with a short pass that the speedy receiver takes 88 yards to the house to stun Arizona, 25-13.
“We have to get it corrected,” Arians told his players after the game. “Let the taste be in your mouth. Don’t spit it out too quick because that’s two we gave away now. We can’t give away no more.”
During a sloppy practice following the loss to the Steelers, Arians said: “We sure can f*@$ some s#*@ up! What the f*@$ is that?”
Arians is stern in a team meeting room before the Baltimore game, telling his players: “We still have those mental lapses where we fall asleep. None of that bulls#*@ anymore. We can do it and go 8-8. That’s fine – if that’s what you want. Alright? If you want to win the division and set ourselves, then that s#*@ will cease.”
The Cardinals got Arians’ message and rattled off nine straight wins, including a 26-18 victory against Baltimore. During that game, Bettcher comes over to Arians and says, “Third-and-20, Coach.”
Arians didn’t waste a second, and yelled to Bettcher, “Blitz that motherf*@$er!”
Veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney, who was an in-season signing, got to Joe Flacco first and recorded his initial sack as a Cardinal with his patented inside spin to help seal a 25-18 win in the fourth quarter.
Before traveling to Cleveland in Week 8, Arians delivered a big-time warning to his players in a team meeting about the team’s upcoming bye week in Week 9.
“If I hear a motherf*@$er talking about a bye week this week there will be some serious repercussions,” Arians said, laying down the law. “We ain’t got no bye week this week. We’ve got the Cleveland Browns. Make sure we are prepared to play the best game we’ve played. Every game matters.”
Arizona improves to 6-2 following a 34-20 victory over the Browns and Arians had a message to his players before the bye.
“We’ve got to keep out the noise,” Arians warned. “Don’t let the individual bulls#*@ take over because the motherf*@$ers (the media, family and friends) are patting you on the back. There ain’t enough room for all the motherf*@$ers that have jumped on the bandwagon. They are coming in left and right, wanting to join up. They ain’t on this f*@$ing team. That elevator drops fast in the s#*@house. Penthouse now, s#*@house in a minute. Don’t lose sight of the big picture.”
Arizona traveled to Seattle for a big game on Sunday Night Football. The Cardinals blew a big, 19-point lead at Seattle but came back to win, 39-32, to improve to 7-2 on the season.
“Everybody that we’re playing from here on out it’s going to take a great week of preparation,” Arians said. “We’re not any better than anyone else we’re playing. We’re not better than the Bengals. We’ll beat them if we respect the process. Take nothing for granted.”
I love how Arians kept the pedal to the metal during that season. Following a thrilling 34-31 win against Cincinnati that I chronicle in the next Fab section, Arians warns his players against a possible “trap game” the next week at San Francisco. Remember, the Cardinals waxed Kaepernick and Co., 47-7, in Week 3. Arians didn’t want there to be any false sense of security about the rematch.
“We haven’t won in San Francisco since 2008,” Arians said. “They’re not playing very well right now. People always talk about ‘trap games.’ I don’t know how in the hell the 49ers could be a ‘trap game’ for us. We haven’t won there in eight years! It’s a division road game. Nothing else really needs to be said. I want the oldest guy in each position group to put your hand up. Okay – get ‘em f*@$ing ready.”
As Arians expected, the 49ers gave the Cardinals everything they can handle at home. During this episode of All Or Nothing, we saw how Arians interacts with his players on the sidelines when he goes over to “chat” with the offensive line, which is struggling in short yardage.
“I’m tired of third-and-1 kicking our ass!” Arians yelled. “Hey, this crew needs to get your head out of your f*@$ing ass! Hey that’s third-and-1 for three weeks now – we’re getting our ass kicked because we ain’t got our head up.”
That “chat” spilled into halftime, which offered a revealing look at how Arians handles his players in a matter-of-fact way.
“That’s the whole half – third-and-1!” Arians bellowed. “We’re o-fer. We can run anything else – slants, slash – anything we want, but we can’t block a dive on third-and-1 and get a damn yard! But it all comes down to f*@$ing third-and-1 (pounds whiteboard) because we don’t have enough f*@$ing brains to get our goddamn eyes up and see linebackers running through – or hit that bitch up in there.
“Now we have the ball. It ain’t going to be no different. It’s the same plays – the same things that we’re ready for. Finishing the f*@$ing drive and put points on the board.”
Arians stormed off and Palmer rallied the now-focused offensive players up to finish off the 49ers in the second half for a 19-13 win. Arians gave the players a Victory Monday after the win, but Peterson interjected and said: “Defense, we’ll meet at 11am. We’ve got to fix this.”
Before a rematch game with the Rams – this time in St. Louis – Arians delivered a powerful message to the team after practice during the week.
“Just a little history – December football,” Arians said. “Last year we were 9-2 on the same day – 9-2. We didn’t win enough games (the Cardinals would finish 11-5 in 2014, going 2-3 down the stretch after losing Palmer to a torn ACL). One of the problems is your body gets beat up, but that can’t be an excuse. We’ve got to be taking care of ourselves.”
After a 27-3 win at St. Louis, the Cardinals were in a dogfight at home against the Vikings in Week 14. Arians was once again not happy with his offensive line after blowing an opportunity to get a touchdown in the red zone.
“F*@$ing bulls#*@!” Arians said. “I’m going to tear some asses up. Come here. You ought to be f*@$ing embarrassed. That’s so pitiful. First-and-goal from the 2 and we kick a goddamn field goal from the 10. We can’t have sacks. We got a field goal. Are they doing something special or are they kicking our ass? Oh, so we’re getting our ass kicked?”
Arizona’s 20-10 lead shrunk to 23-20 in the fourth quarter before the Cardinals win was clinched with a strip-sack by Freeney on an inside spin move.
The Cardinals would lose Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu the next week in a 40-17 win at Philadelphia and then beat Green Bay 38-8 at home before losing 36-6 at home to Seattle. Yet Arizona had done enough to clinch a playoff bye and a home game to beat Green Bay again in overtime, 26-20, before falling 49-15 at Carolina in the NFC Championship Game in a game that Arians said he “never saw coming.”
The FABulous Ending
Arians uses a good deal of profanity to drive his coaching points home, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that his messages hit home and resonate with today’s NFL players. Arians “keeps it real,” as Jason Pierre-Paul would say, and does so with no sugarcoating and the extreme amount of accountability he demands from his players.
Arians is not always angry, nor is he a tyrant. He genuinely loves his plays and there was plenty of praise towards them throughout All Or Nothing. But Arians wasn’t brought to Arizona to make friends. He was hired by the Cardinals to win a championship and that takes drive, discipline and focus – along with the trust, loyalty and respect that Arians preaches. It will be the same thing in Tampa Bay.
I covered this team during the Dungy and Gruden eras and I know what a winning locker room full of accountable players looks like. I haven’t seen the necessary amount of accountability in Tampa Bay since the day Gruden left after the 2008 season. Koetter would swear from time to time, but didn’t hold the team accountable.
Arians is a blunt, direct, no-nonsense kind of coach. After watching All Or Nothing on Amazon Prime, I’m convinced his approach is exactly what’s needed right now in Tampa Bay to take the Bucs to the next level.