FAB 3. Arians Uses Fear To Motivate
New Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians will bring some much needed accountability to a Bucs locker room that has largely gone a decade without it. Not since the days of Jon Gruden has Tampa Bay’s locker room has there been a sense of unease and the fear of losing one’s job if a player’s performance on the field falters.
Sure, former head coach Greg Schiano benched and cut quarterback Josh Freeman in his fifth-year option year, and Dirk Koetter benched starting QB Jameis Winston, but outside of those moves, the culture at One Buccaneer Place under Raheem Morris, Schiano, Lovie Smith and Koetter has been one of accommodating the players and creating a sense of entitlement – regardless of the team’s record and on-field performance.
Tony Dungy didn’t have to rule with an iron fist because he commanded respect and the players didn’t want to let him down because they were loyal to him. Dungy’s approach helped turn the Bucs franchise around in the late 1990s.
Gruden, who replaced Dungy in 2002 and became Tampa Bay’s all-time winningest coach, was both loved and feared – sometimes at the same time. He created a constant state of unease at One Buc Place that propelled the Bucs to three division championships and fueled a Super Bowl championship run in his first year. Bucs players didn’t want to mess with Chucky and get in Gruden’s doghouse.
Three of the greatest coaches in NFL history, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson, have 10 Super Bowl championships between them, and each ruled with fear. Make a mistake and ride the pine. Keep making mistakes and find work elsewhere.
That’s the style of coaching that Arians is bringing to Tampa Bay. That’s the style of coaching that fosters accountability. That’s the style of coaching that has been missing as the Bucs have gone a full decade since making the playoffs.
“I think all of us in any workforce, the fear of losing your job might be number one,” Arians told me at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “Then you try to do the best job that you can, but don’t get fired first. So yeah, every player should have that fear.”
Arians discussed his desire to be feared by his players in his book The Quarterback Whisperer, and how he uses that fear as a coaching tactic.
“Make no mistake, I can be a world-class screamer – heaven help the quarterback who falls asleep in a meeting or any player who takes my damn parking spot – but I’m always searching for ways to become both loved and feared at the same time,” Arians wrote in The Quarterback Whisperer. “It’s a coaching philosophy I learned from the best coach I’ve ever come across: Paul “Bear” Bryant.”
“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?”
Arians didn’t just tow a player’s car. He actually cut a player after he parked in the wrong spot to send a message to the team that rules and attention to details matter, and if no followed, the outcome can be costly.
“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 could teach a MasterClass on the art of swearing. Bucs fans attending training camp will be able to see that firsthand. He uses screaming and profanity to create a tense environment that usually forces a player to pay attention.
“Sometimes I’m brutally honest, but I think they respect that,” Arians said. “When I’m talking to them ugly, it’s usually about their football – it’s not them as a person. I tell them, ‘Don’t take this personally. This is coaching, alright? It’s not criticism. That’s two different things.’ So you can build some trust. I think any football player looks at a coach in their room and says, ‘How are you going to make me better?’ If they can’t answer that question they don’t belong in the room.
“I’ll go back to Plexico Burress in my first year in Pittsburgh. He said, ‘How are you going to make me better?’ I said, ‘The first thing I’m going to do is change that shitty stance of yours.’ He just kind of looked at me. I said, ‘You take a false step every time. You are one step slow coming off the line of scrimmage.’ He never thought about that. It’s easy things like that.”
Arians believes he is inheriting a talented roster despite the Bucs’ back-to-back 5-11 seasons. He admits that there likely won’t be as much roster turnover this year as a result.
“I would doubt it,” Arians said. “I think Jason [Licht] has done such a good job with this roster. There’s always change, but to the point, I think we had 50 something in the first two years [in Arizona], we were always churning. Now those last five guys [on the roster] better never feel comfortable. We’ll be trying, looking for somebody to replace you. So, yeah, that part of it never stops.”
Arians’ old school approach to coaching is a welcome change in Tampa Bay and will shake up the country club atmosphere that has occupied One Buccaneer Place since Gruden’s departure.
“Coach Bryant taught me a long time ago to coach ‘em hard and hug ‘em later, and that’s been my philosophy,” Arians said. “A lot of them are coddled. Starting today, who are the ones that have been silver-spooned? Everybody can learn – it’s just finding out how they learn. I can’t be as critical on this guy as I can on this guy because he can take it. He’s going to get cussed out – it just depends on how bad!”