There is always a story behind the story.
I planned to meet Bruce Arians at the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a blustery Monday morning in early March. My crew set up their recording equipment in Arians’ office and then we waited for the arrival of the main man.
As we ticked a few minutes past our scheduled meeting time, I was in no hurry. The wall behind Arians’ massive desk serves as a mini history lesson of sorts and I was happy to look at the two Super Bowl trophies he won in Pittsburgh, his two NFL Coach of the Year prizes, game balls spanning 45 years in coaching and a large photo of his career inspiration in legendary college coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.
Time ticked on and Tampa’s excellent public relations boss Nelson Luis came back into the office and apologised one more time for the brief delay… “Coach is in a meeting with our general manager, Jason Licht. They’re pretty busy with free agency coming up next week.”
As I mentioned at the time… oh to be a fly on that particular wall. We all know now what they were discussing – the impending move to bring TB12 on board. Moments later, Arians bowled into the room like the force of nature that he is. And it would be fair to say that he was in a chipper mood and had a real spring in his step. And no wonder! By the time I had arrived home in London later that week, reports had begun to surface that the Bucs were ‘all in’ for Tom Brady.
Arians got his man and Brady will now work with a renowned quarterback whisperer who has tutored some of the biggest names in American football. And that’s where my conversation with Arians begins…
You’ve coached the likes of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer and now Tom Brady. They have different styles but is there anything they have in common?
They will kill you to win. They will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to win, they’re going to win. And it doesn’t matter if it is dominoes, ping pong or golf – whatever they’re playing, they’re playing to win. All the great ones have that and they have a way of instilling it in other people. They can instil their will on you to win.
And, for you, is it about their mind and the accuracy as opposed to being able to throw it 70 yards?
That helps but how does somebody ever throw one that far? Unless it’s a broken play. You can’t block them for that long. For me, it’s about your head and your heart. You play with your brain and your interior toughness and that’s what leads men. And a quarterback has to be a leader of men.
You were Peyton Manning’s first quarterback coach in 1998. What was that experience like and I assume he presented quite a challenge?
He had to have every T crossed and every I dotted before he could play. He was the most challenging guy I ever coached. Let’s say I had an hour meeting with him, I would have to prepare two hours of material. Now poor Kelly Holcomb, he was sitting over there just lost. Peyton was like that fish that eats everybody – he was the piranha of information.
You won two Super Bowls with Big Ben. What was he like to coach?
He was probably just the opposite. You could overload him with information. You just had to let him play because he knew his gameplan. With the second Super Bowl we won together, we got into a relationship where I would let him call plays. It was total trust. We put that thing together and once you have a quarterback who is all in, his accountability level is extremely high. He then knows it’s a part of him and it’s not just being dictated to him. Then he is not a robot. Ben and I had a great relationship.
That is coaching. You had to overload Peyton Manning and make sure you don’t overload Big Ben. It’s all about learning the learner.
Yes, and Andrew Luck was kind of a combination of the two – he could eat it up but there was also a freedom about the way he played the game. He was very hard on himself. I can remember him coming out of a game once after he had thrown a touchdown and saying, ‘That’s got to be the ugliest damn touchdown ever!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but it’s a touchdown – don’t worry about it’.
Let’s finish up with that 2012 season when you were working with Andrew Luck and you won your first NFL Coach of the Year award. What was that like for you because you were probably worrying about Chuck Pagano battling cancer yet it was on you to keep the team together. How was that time?
I think it was the Thursday night of the first week and I was sitting in my office when I had a panic attack. And I don’t have panic attacks. It was a little overwhelming as I wondered how I was going to get this done and was he going to get better? I calmed down and then ahead of our first game, our owner, Mr Irsay, said: “We’re going to beat the Green Bay Packers and take the game ball down to Chuck.” Thanks, that’s all we needed – a little more pressure. I’ve never feared losing in my life except Coach Bryant’s last game in the Liberty Bowl and this game. We’re losing 21-3 at the half and I said all we needed was one good play and it was going to snowball. Reggie Wayne stood up, Cory Redding stood up and they got the guys fired up. Jerraud Powers intercepts Aaron Rodgers and we score. We went on to win on the last play of the game. To me, that is still number one. I’ve won two Super Bowls and they don’t come close to that game.
This article first appeared in Issue 2 of Gridiron Weekly – our new, interactive, pay-what-you-can-afford digital magazine. For further information or to buy either individual editions or subscriptions for Gridiron Magazine, click HERE
For the full interview with Bruce Arians check out The Neil Reynolds Podcast – streaming now