Tom Brady's fresh start is a chance for Bruce Arians to solidify his legacy

Terez Paylor
Senior NFL writer

For years, Bruce Arians has been regarded as a very good head coach, one of the rare ones who can groom quarterbacks, play an exciting brand of offense and win games, all while keeping reporters’ notebooks full.

Don’t underestimate those skills. In an era when most of the NFL’s best coaches stifle their personality in favor of stoic public personas (Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, etc.), Arians’ willingness to be candid and insightful — all while cracking jokes — is a welcome change.

If you think reporters are the only ones who can be wooed by personable head coaches, think again. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ successful pursuit of Tom Brady offers proof that sometimes even the most accomplished pro players need to hear a different voice.

Brady might be 42 but he’s still an NFL icon and the verifiable GOAT. He is not the same passer he was five years ago, so you have to assume there’s a reason his longtime team, the New England Patriots, quietly shifted to a more ground-oriented attack in recent years. But there’s no doubt he can still play. His gravitas alone should be enough to represent an upgrade over the Buccaneers’ former quarterback, Mr. 30-30, Jameis Winston.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has an opportunity to solidify his football legacy with Tom Brady at the helm. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Why Tom Brady chose the Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have been irrelevant for nearly two decades, so they need Brady – for season-ticket sales and credibility’s sake — more than he needs them.

And yet he still chose to don the pewter and red in 2020, which says plenty about several other pluses of the situation he’s walking into, like warm weather and lots of talented, young weapons. Even more, perhaps, it was about the coach he’s playing for.

By all accounts Brady is a competitive, detail-oriented football savant. He would not leave Belichick to play for a head coach he could not match wits with. So his willingness to play for Arians, and mesh offensive systems with him, is a nod to the respect Arians commands throughout the league. 

Arians may not have a Super Bowl title as a head coach, nor does he have a Super Bowl appearance in that capacity. But his 65-42-1 career head coaching record (including a 9-3 run as interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts) is impressive, and so are his two Coach of the Year awards (2012, 2014) and two Super Bowl titles as an assistant. 

While Brady gives Arians an opportunity to solidify his football legacy, Arians gives Brady an opportunity to start fresh and prove he can win without Belichick. It’s a marriage that figures to work for a few reasons.

How Bruce Arians can challenge Tom Brady

Arians is far more personable publicly than Belichick, but one area where he and Belichick seem to be similar is with their bluntness. Over the past 20 years in New England, Belichick routinely showed Brady that despite all his accolades, he could be held accountable like the rest of the group. And judging from what many of Arians’ current and former players have said, it appears Arians isn’t afraid to tell a player what he doesn’t want to hear.

“He’s gonna tell it to you like it is, which is appreciated — maybe not at the time he’s doing it,” Cameron Brate once told NFL Network.

Arians will challenge Brady, who seems to live for that. It’s impossible to imagine him reaching the heights he has without Belichick’s consistent prodding, just like it’s impossible to imagine Brady not getting tired of that after two decades of stellar play and a stacked trophy case. 

Arians should give Brady the same motivation, just in a different package. Enough to make things fresh and interesting in Year 21, especially as he now gets to throw to his best supporting cast in years. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are stellar receivers in their primes, and they can run the short-to-intermediate routes Brady loves. The offensive line is solid in pass protection, and the secondary skill pieces have room for growth.

The only concern — and it’s a legit one — is how Arians will fare at adapting his offense to Brady’s strengths. In the past several years, the Patriots attacked defenses with an array of quick passes and the run game, with select play-action shots off that. 

Arians, however, loves to throw the ball downfield. It’s been a staple of his offense for years. While Winston ranked fourth in the NFL in deep-ball target percentage in 2019, Brady ranked a paltry 27th. It’s something they will have to sort out, and it will be fascinating to see how much more aggressive Brady — who has gotten the ball out quickly to prevent taking punishment — is in Tampa.

Chances are high the two will make it work, as both have so much to gain legacy-wise from a successful union. And the best part is we get Arians, the NFL’s most interesting interview, to chronicle it for us the whole way, all for our listening and viewing pleasure.

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