Perceptions of Arians taking a beating

by Gary Shelton on February 1, 2022

in general

Arians taking a lot of heat lately./TIM WIRT

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Funny thing, perception. Interesting thing, expectations.

Take, for instance, the interesting debate between the championship follow-ups of Jon Gruden and Bruce Arians. One was revered. The other, in certain place, seems to be reviled.

When Gruden took the Bucs to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, Tampa Bay fell in love. They were ready to put Gruden's face on money. They were ready to name schools after him. They built a statue of him (and others) to go in the lobby of the team headquarters.

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Arians? Arians seems to be becoming the villain in the Tom Brady retirement talk. He was the reason the Bucs' decided on a lamebrain blitz that beat them against the Rams. Revisionist history seems to blame him, as much as Antonio Brown, for the meltdown that Brown had on the sideline late in the season.

Gruden? He looked like an NFL coach is supposed to look. He sounded like an NFL coach is supposed to sound. He never won another playoff game after his Super Bowl, but there are people who will swear he was the best coach the Bucs ever had, email scandal and all.

Arians? He looks like Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction. He's won more playoff games than this team ever has, and his winning percentage is the highest, but some fans act as if he was just in the sidecar while Tom Brady steered.

Two championships. Two memories.

Part of this, of course, is that Arians' latest loss still hasn't scabbed over, and the coach is the most conveniet guy to blame. Fans are angry, and some would have you believe that Arians should have run down the sideline and taken the coaching call away from Todd Bowles before the Bucs' ill-fated blitz. That's lunacy, of course. Gruden wouldn't have overruled Monte Kiffin, either.

But the contrasting reputations of both coaches is interesting, and in many ways, it says a lot about Tampa Bay.

When Gruden won his title, he did it for a frustrated community. Those Bucs' fans had endured one of the worst stretches by a franchise in NFL history -- losing double digit games in 13 of 14 seasons. After that, they had endured the frustration of Tony Dungy's good-but-not-champions teams. In hindsight, Dungy was terrific, and he was the leader of the franchise's turnaround. But if you were there, you felt the frustration of a team whose offense was never quite good enough for the post-season.

Gruden changed all that. He came in as a burst of energy, challenging, pushing. It wouldn't last, but in that first year, he changed the tempo of football in Tampa Bay. I wrote then, and I believe now, that it was the best one-season coaching job in modern footbal historyl. He went from not knowing the players' names to winning a title.

It was different with Arians. Oh, the team had endured another dry spell, but it wasn't quite as bad as the first, and he imported so many stars it left the impression that he was little more than the traffic cop. The public seemed to believe this was Brady's team, and the greater the quarterback, the less fans accept that the head coach is necessary.

Both men coached offense. And face it: Winning a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson as your quarterback looks like a better coaching job than winning one with Tom Brady.

Have you seen the latest rumors, the ones that suggest that Brady is retiring not only because he's 44 and has won more than anyone in history. Supposedly, he's doing it because of "the culture" that Arians infused (frankly, Brady was the culture). He misses Bill Belichick, some say, although Belichick hasn't lifted any trophies lately himself. It can't just be about a man who is getting out while he's still admired; he has to be running away from something. Brady is upset that Arians' fired Antonio Brown, some say. He didn't like this call or that call, although Brady made his share of the calls.

Two men. Two trophies.

I scanned a Bucs' blog on Monday. Arians, in various posts, was described as "a liar" and "a lazy arse." This, of course, is the blame game. No coach in the NFL has a better two-year run going than Arians (if the Rams win the Super Bowl, Sean McVay will have one as good).

Hey, if you remember, Gruden had an awful season as a defending champion. He lost nine times, and he fuuded with his general manger, and he had problems with a receiver of his own (Keyshawn Johnson). Winning twice in a row is hard.

Still, Gruden had his defenders until his last day as a Bucs' coach. That's because he succeeded with great players who had failed before him. To many, Arians failed with great players who had succeeded before him.

Two men, two legacies.

Too bad.

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