Bruce Arians' retirement last offseason turned out to be a hiatus after all.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are closing in on hiring Arians, who announced his retirement last offseason after five years with the Arizona Cardinals, as their new head coach, per multiple reports. Sources tell PFW that the Bucs' job is Arians' No. 1 preference, but we haven't yet confirmed that the Glazers have signed off on the hiring. To consummate the deal, Tampa Bay is sending a sixth-rounder to the Cardinals, who claim they still owned the rights to Arians; the Bucs get a seventh-rounder in return along with their new head coach.
PFW reported exclusively last January that Arians, the winningest coach in Cardinals history, would mutually agree to part ways with the organization and take a hiatus, if not call it quits for good, rather than lead Arizona's rebuilding efforts.
That hiatus, it appears, will last only one year.
Arians will reunite in Tampa Bay with QB Jameis Winston, who forged a lasting relationship with the two-time Coach of the Year after attending his QB camp growing up. He also will team up with Buccaneers GM Jason Licht, who was with the Cardinals' front office in 2013, which was Arians' first season in the desert, prior to taking the reins in Tampa.
Arians, 66, replaces Dirk Koetter, who was fired on "Black Monday" after compiling a 19-29 record, including back-to-back 5-11, last-place finishes, over three seasons.
Much like with Koetter's in-house promotion in 2016, the impetus of tabbing Arians is Winston, the first overall pick in 2014, who has intermixed bright flashes on the field with erratic decision making on and off of it.
Stylistically, the Arians-Winston pairing will be an entertaining one. Winston is a talented downfield thrower who has yet to find a window he feels is too tight to fit the ball in. Arians, a staunch believer in seven-stop drops and shot plays for days, oversaw the NFL's most aggressive passing offense throughout much of his Cardinals tenure.
Arians compiled a 49-30-1 mark with Arizona and guided the Cardinals to three double-digit win seasons, two playoff berths and an appearance in the 2015 NFC title game. The year prior to accepting his first head-coaching offer, he went 9-3 as the Indianapolis Colts' interim coach, helping develop then-No.1 overall pick Andrew Luck into a rookie Pro Bowler and guiding Indy to the playoffs in the absence of Chuck Pagano, who left the team abruptly to battle cancer.
Arians also spent seven seasons in Pittsburgh, first as receivers coach (from 2004 to 2006) then as offensive coordinator, winning two Super Bowls and turning Ben Roethlisberger into a Pro Bowler.
But the relationship between Arians and Roethlisberger grew a little too cozy, leading to the coordinator ouster and, eventually, late blossoming into one of the game's top head coaches.
In Tampa Bay, Arians will inherit Winston on the heels of the quarterback's most turbulent year in the NFL, which began with a three-game suspension by the league for groping an Uber driver and ended with him being benched twice and a touchdown-to-turnover ratio of 20-17 in only nine starts.
Winston is still only 25 years old and will return on his fifth-year option at a 2019 cost of $20.9 million. And although the marriage with Arians might be ideal from a purely X's and O's standpoint, it's fair to wonder whether putting them together would create enough accountability for Winston. His issues with immaturity and leadership — in addition to his on-field inconsistency and propensity for turnovers — already have prevented him from reaching his full potential.
But Tampa Bay has the No. 5 overall pick in a draft whose top three selections are owned by clubs that are all in on young quarterbacks. The possibility, then, that the Bucs could be in the market for one can't be discounted, even if they remain committed — for now — to Winston.
Arians reportedly also could reunite in Tampa with his former Cardinals defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, the former New York Jets head coach who was fired last week. Much like Arians' track record working with young quarterbacks, that's a critical component to this hire. Bowles was an Assistant Coach of the Year in Arizona, and the Bucs' high-priced defense was the NFL's worst last season.
The good news is the Bucs seemed to be trending toward a philosophical shift on defense last season prior to Mike Smith's dismissal. Bowles runs one of the more aggressive 3-4 systems in football — basically the antithesis of the scheme Koetter's predecessor, Lovie Smith, brought to Tampa Bay, which until last season had largely remained in place.