FAB 3. All Or Nothing With Arians: Personnel
In Fab 2, I took a look at how new Bucs head coach Bruce Arians leads with regards to barking out orders on the sidelines during game days or at practice and in team meeting rooms. But one of the areas that is often behind closed doors that viewers get to see Arians navigate is personnel decisions.
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim and president Michael Bidwell handle the roster moves, but Arians also has his say when it comes to holding players accountable for their actions – and dismissing those who don’t adhere to the rules. Watching Arians operate in this arena was music to my eyes and ears.
There has been very little accountability at One Buccaneer Place for quite some time, and that falls mostly on the head coaches. Sure, general manager Jason Licht has cut some kickers in-season for continuing to miss field goals – most notably Nick Folk in 2017 and Chandler Catanzaro last year. And Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was released before Week 3 in 2016, and quarterback Jameis Winston was benched last year. But outside of those moves, there was very little accountability for the other 50 players on the roster.
The Big Takeaway
When mistakes were often made in Tampa Bay last year, they were too often tolerated. That won’t happen under Arians. During the Cardinals’ 2015 season, which was featured on All Or Nothing, Arians almost cut starting right guard Ted Larsen for a false start at a critical part of the Cardinals vs. Bengals game.
Arians wasn’t thinking about benching Larsen. He was going to cut him. Keep reading to find out what happened.
Quotes That Matter
“My pet peeve – I came to work and two days in a row some motherf*@$er was in my spot,” Arians said in a team meeting during the 2015 offseason. “Alright? One was a Jeep with Washington plates today and yesterday it was a Jeep with Texas plates in my spot. If there is a sign on a parking place anywhere in this facility – don’t park in the bitch or I will tow your ass. Alright?
“Last thing. All you new guys – when I’m talking to you, a lot of times it’s ugly. But I ain’t talking about you personally now. I’m talking about your football. If your football sucks, I’m going to tell you your football sucks. I like you as a guy. ‘Smoke’ [wide receiver John Brown’s nickname] thought his middle name was ‘motherf *@$er’ last year. Alright? Then he got to be ‘Smoke’ because he started to do his s#*@ right. It’s easy.”
Sure enough, a player didn’t adhere to Arians rules and parked in the wrong spot – and got cut. That player was Lawrence Okoye, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound defensive tackle, who was on Arizona’s practice squad. Okoye was a member of the British track and field team and played rugby before trying his hand at NFL football.
“We’re moving on from Lawrence Okoye,” Arians said during practice. “He parked in the wrong spot. There weren’t any parking places – and he just came running in. Tough s#*@. He has a different sense of entitlement being an Olympian.”
Arians sent a message that details matter, and mistakes come at a cost.
Defensive end Calais Campbell, a team captain, addressed the team about Okoye’s release during a team meeting and stressed the attention to details that were needed from the players moving forward.
Now it’s not to say that Arians doesn’t believe in second chances. He does when the situation warrants it. Every second chance situation is evaluated on a player-by-player basis. NFL Films documented the selection of LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu by Arians and Keim (and former Cardinals VP of personnel Jason Licht) back in 2013 for the All Or Nothing series.
“I’m a true believer in second chances,” Arians said. “We took a lot of criticism at the Cardinals for drafting Tyrann because he was kicked out of LSU for a drug problem. It crushed him to lose the one thing he loved, and that was football.
“Too many times now in the NFL we’re so over-conscience of public opinion that we forget about the person and what they are going through.”
These quotes lead me to believe that Arians and the Bucs will pursue the signing of former Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt, the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, who was kicked off the Chiefs for assaulting a woman and lying to the team about it. Hunt, who is likely facing a 6-10 game suspension, is the perfect type of back for Arians’ offense.
Mathieu, who could be another free agent target by the Bucs this offseason as the team needs a veteran safety, discussed his relationship with Arians for the All Or Nothing cameras.
“I remember the first time I sat down with B.A. after he drafted me and he told me that story,” Mathieu said, recalling how Arians told him about him getting kicked out of his high school when he was a star quarterback at York High School in Pennsylvania. “Now me as a player who just got a second chance, I’m able to come into work every day more comfortable, more relaxed because my coach showed me his scars. He showed me what he’d been through in his life. I think that’s why we relate to each other. Not to mention that we both have crazy swag.”
Arians got a bit emotional when discussing what coaching means to him.
“For me coaching isn’t about winning and losing,” Arians said. “It’s about making a guy as good as he can be.”
But make no mistake – Arians wants to win. And when Larsen almost cost the Cardinals a shot at beating the Bengals, he almost lost his job.
Prior to the footage of the Cardinals and Bengals game, All Or Nothing featured a scene where Arians went over end-of-game situation film in team meetings on a weekly basis to educate his players in situational football. His first example was of a recent Dallas vs. Giants game during the 2015 season.
“Giants up by 3 in Dallas – no timeouts (1:43 left, Giants up 23-20). Alright?” Arians said as he rolled the end-of game footage, which showed the Giants in the Cowboys red zone for his players to watch. “Giants decide to throw this ball, but it’s not there – so go down (Arians was suggesting that Eli Manning take a sack to keep the clock running). Go down and eat the ball. Alright? Quarterback – can it be incomplete? Nope. It cannot be incomplete. A sack, they end up kicking a field goal (Giants up 26-20) with probably 30-40 seconds left on the clock. Now it’s 1:29 instead of it being 40 seconds off that clock. [The Cowboys] get it down here and score and win the game (27-26). The biggest part of this drill was the offense putting the defense in that scenario. Alright? They should have not had more than 40 seconds on that clock.
“Each week these games come down to critical errors. It’s really not as much as who makes the play, as who don’t f*@$ it up. Don’t be the guy that f*@$s it up.”
The Cardinals and Bengals played on Sunday Night and Arizona had a chance to break a 31-31 tie and win the game with a last-second field goal. Before quarterback Carson Palmer spiked the ball to kill the clock with less than 10 seconds left to bring out the field goal kicker, Larsen moved before the snap and flags flew. It looked like a false start, which would have moved the Cardinals back five yards, but also included a costly 10-second run off, which would end regulation and force overtime without Arizona having a chance to win it with a field goal.
“Stupid motherf*@$er!” Arians said in a rage on the sideline.
But the Cardinals – and Larsen – caught a break. Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko barked out the word “hut” to cause Larsen to false start. He was flagged for simulating the snap, which is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Arizona won with Chandler Catanzaro’s 32-yard field goal.
The Cardinals started that game-winning drive backed up in their own end of the field with one minute remaining and no timeouts. Instead of taking a knee and playing for overtime, Arians trusted his players to go win the game and had Palmer air it out to get the Cari.
No risk it, no biscuit.
“The one thing about us – we’re going to play to win,” Arians told his team in the locker room after the win. “We don’t play for ties because we trust each other. Things didn’t always go our way, but this group is finding ways to win and that’s a beautiful thing.”
The next scene in All Or Nothing was Bidwell, Arians and Keim in a meeting room recapping the game. Arians was still not pleased with Larsen.
“Yeah, we wouldn’t have a guard on our team right now if there was a 10-second run off,” Arians said. “We’d cut him right now.”
Arians then addressed Larsen’s mistake in the team meeting room as he reviewed the game evaluation chart from the Arizona vs. Cincinnati game.
“Alright we were very fortunate to win this ball game the way we played,” Arians said. “It’s nice to learn from almost losing rather than losing. But don’t sit here and pat yourself on the back. We were not the most physical team. We got our ass kicked in short yardage and goal line.
“We had critical penalties, and Ted, you are very, very lucky that you are not right there (pointing to the penalties area on the overhead projector slide). And if you were right there you wouldn’t be sitting where you are right now. There’s no f*@$ing excuse for you to move in that goddamn situation. We’re killing that clock.”
The FABulous Ending
Three of the top Super Bowl winning coaches – New England’s Bill Belichick, New York Giants’ Bill Parcells and Dallas’ Jimmy Johnson – all used fear as a motivator. Arians does that too, to a degree. The fear of getting benched is one thing. The fear of losing your job is something completely different.
Nothing stamps out complacency, laziness and incompetence like the fear of unemployment. Not getting a promotion or getting demoted is one thing. Being out of work altogether and missing a paycheck is another.
Arians doesn’t mess around. He has very few rules, but if you don’t follow them – it’s your ass, as he would say. There will be some Buccaneers who will be purged this year just because of their attitude. If they don’t shape up, Arians will ship them out.
What’s different about Arians’ hardline approach, as opposed to that of former Bucs head coach Greg “Toes On The Line” Schiano, is the two Super Bowl rings on Arians’ fingers – not to mention his nearly three decades of NFL coaching experience.