Bruce Arians and Jon Gruden took similar paths to the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers took similar paths to secure both of their Lombardi trophies. Displeased with the results they had been getting from their coaching staff, the Buccaneers brought in new coaches who were expected to complete the drive to the Super Bowl.
Way back before anyone can really remember, the Buccaneers sold the farm in order to hire Jon Gruden, then the coach of the Los Angeles Raiders. Fans can spend the rest of the current century arguing over whether the deal was good, with two first and two second-rounders and a small pile of what at that time seemed a lot of cash was worth their first Lombardi. But one thing that no one can argue with was the success they had.
Blame it on the Philadelphia Eagles, or the Los Angeles Rams, whatever, it likely seemed to management that the Bucs, while one of the premier defenses in the league, was arguably a mediocre team on offense. And, while it’s a renowned fact, maybe, that defense wins championships, teams stand a better chance of success if they can also put points on the board.
For the Buccaneers back in 2001, the offense was not at the level management wanted it to be. They hoped that the Bucs would get a new Offensive Coordinator, but it didn’t appear to be in the mix. So, the powers that be went out and found an offense-minded coach in Jon Gruden. Gruden, if you recall, had made it to the AFC title game and lost to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a game that is known more for the Tuck Rule than anything else.
Tampa brass loved Gruden and felt his offensive style was just what Tampa needed to compete for and win their first Super Bowl. Once the deal was ironed out, Gruden came on board and immediately started pulling in available free agents.
He picked up Keenan McCardell from the Jaguars, Michael Pittman from the Cardinals, Rob Johnson from the Bills, Ken Dilger from the Colts, Rickey Dudley from the Colts, Joe Jurevicius from the Giants, Greg Spires from the Browns, Roman Oben from the Browns, and punter Tom Tupa from the Jets.
In the meantime, he had several Bucs leave: Donnie Abraham was picked up by the Jets, Jamie Duncan went to the Rams, Jacquez Green went to Washington, Dave Moore to the Bills, and Mark Royals joined the Dolphins.
Whether or not those moves were right or wrong, the offense certainly came around. Behind Johnson, the Buccaneers finished the regular season as NFC South Champions with a 12-4 record. That year, they ended up playing the Eagles in the NFC championship game and managed to come away with the victory and all-important ticket to the Super Bowl, where they would end up playing against Gruden’s former team, the Raiders.
The Buccaneers went on to win that game rather handily, 48-21, with most of the Raiders’ points coming after the outcome was already decided. But the point is that a new head coach came in and was able to turn the team into champions with some interesting FA pickups, and a change in offensive mentality.
Who’s to say that a very similar scenario could have played out for the 2019 Buccaneers? It certainly seemed as if the team had the makings for a Super Bowl run, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Now, the defense was something quite a bit different.
So, after two seasons with Dirk Koetter at the helm, the Bucs management was looking for a change. They had, at that time, what they felt was the makings of a Super Bowl contender and they failed to make the playoffs, or even have a winning record. A coaching change seemed in order, and Jason Licht knew just the right person for it. The Bucs hired Bruce Arians, a well-known offensive-minded coach, who they felt could take the team to places they hadn’t been in decades.
Bucco Bruce Arians I’m sure thought he walked into the perfect storm. A team that was as talented as Tampa was back then wouldn’t need too much coaching to get it over the hump and into the playoffs. What he wasn’t counting was the self-destructive play of his quarterback, former first-round pick, Jameis Winston.
He soon found out how hard this job would be. Winston opened the season against San Francisco and promptly threw three INTs, two of which were run back for touchdowns. That should have been a hint of things to come.
Even with Winston setting an NFL record for INTs with 30, and pick-sixes with six, the Bucs seemed on the very edge of making the playoffs. But the turnovers kept them from winning games they ought to have won. And in the final game of the season, at home against the Houston Texans, the Bucs got the ball first in the overtime. Winston dropped back on the very first play and fired a pick-six to end the game, the season, and his career with Tampa. And the Bucs finished the season one game below .500 at 9-7.
No doubt, a quarterback change seemed in order. Despite his cool seeming exterior, Arians knew he had to make a change. Of all the available free-agent quarterback’s none seemed a better choice than Tom Brady. Brady, owner of six championship rings, as many as any team in the NFL, was up for grabs.
No risk it, no biscuit, right?
It came down to one thing, who was going to make the call to see if Brady would be interested in coming to toss the pigskin in Tampa? And then, surprise surprise, turns out that Tamp Tom Brady was indeed interested in continuing his career in Tampa. He liked the team, he liked the coaches, he liked what Tampa was trying to get done. And in the end, he signed, he trained, he ignited the Brady effect, and, ultimately, he conquered taking the Buccaneers to the holy ground, at home, and the LV Lombardi Trophy.
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how two new coaches were able to win two Super Bowls for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tune in next season, while Brady, Arians, and Licht endeavor to “run it back” in Super Bowl LVI.