The excitement surrounding the Buccaneers’ hiring of Bruce Arians hasn’t worn off yet and it likely won’t for quite a while. The Tampa Bay fan base is understandably starving for success, having not seen a playoff game since the 2007 season. There’s no such thing as a sure thing in sports, but Arians feels like the guy that can get the Bucs back to being a contender.
The franchise hasn’t had the best luck with coaches in its history. When compared to Tampa Bay’s previous coaches, even the successful ones, Arians’ résumé is considerably better. No Buccaneer coach matches up to what Arians did in his pre-Tampa days. The 66-year-old has an extensive amount of experience, two Super Bowl rings as an assistant and two NFL Coach of the Year Awards. Here, we’ll compare Arians’ track record to those of Tampa Bay’s past head coaches.
John McKay, the first head coach in franchise history, had an impressive run in college before coming to the Bucs. After 10 years as an assistant with Oregon and then USC, he served as the head coach of USC for 16 seasons. While with the Trojans, he compiled a 127-40-8 record, won four national championships and two Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Awards. That’s one of the more impressive résumés of any Tampa Bay coach, but he had no NFL experience coming in.
The next two coaches, Leeman Bennett and Ray Perkins, brought some NFL experience with them, but neither had much success. Bennett was an assistant with the Rams and Lions, and then a head coach with the Falcons before coming to the Bucs. As a head coach in Atlanta, he was 46-41 in six seasons, making the playoffs three times. Perkins worked with the Patriots and Chargers as an assistant before coaching the Giants to a 23-34 record and one playoff appearance in four seasons. He then compiled a 32-15-1 record in four seasons at Alabama prior to taking the Bucs’ job. Again, there was experience for both guys, but nothing too impressive.
Richard Williamson and Sam Wyche were the next two in line before Tony Dungy, and neither had much in their track records that would inspire much feeling. Williamson had a number of stints as an assistant coach in college, then spent six seasons as the head coach at Memphis State (putting together a 32-34 record). He went on to work as an assistant with Kansas City and Tampa Bay before being promoted to the latter’s head coaching position. Wyche did win a Super Bowl as an assistant with the 49ers and later appeared in a Super Bowl as the head coach of the Bengals, but had an overall record of 61-66 in eight seasons with Cincinnati. Of the coaches in the “early days,” Wyche had the most success at the NFL level.
Things really turned around for the Bucs when they hired Tony Dungy, but they likely couldn’t have known just how good things would get based on his experience. He worked as an assistant at the college level and in the professional ranks, but his only notable experience before coming to Tampa was a four-year period as the defensive coordinator with the Vikings.
After Dungy was fired, of course, Tampa Bay traded for Jon Gruden. The young offensive mind brought with him plenty of college experience, as well as some time as an assistant with the Packers. After working in Green Bay, he was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator for three years and then the head coach in Oakland for four seasons. With the Raiders, Gruden had a 38-26 record that included two playoff appearances. Once again, even for the top two coaches in franchise history, there wasn’t anything overly eye-popping on either of their résumés before they came to Tampa.
Once Gruden was let go after the 2008 season, the Bucs entered the cycle of mediocrity that they’re in now. Tampa Bay first turned to Raheem Morris, who had college and NFL experience, though none of his time in the NFL was spent as a coordinator or a head coach. He was the defensive backs coach for the Bucs in the two years prior to his promotion.
After Morris didn’t work out, the franchise turned to the college ranks for Greg Schiano. His only NFL experience before 2012 was a three-year stint as an assistant with the Bears. Before becoming Tampa Bay’s coach, Schiano was 68-67 in 11 seasons as the head coach at Rutgers.
Schiano only lasted two years in Tampa before the Bucs went with perhaps their most-experienced guy yet. In hiring Lovie Smith, the team got someone who had a lot of time as a positions coach, some time as a defensive coordinator with the Rams and a nine-year tenure as the head coach of the Bears. While in Chicago, Smith went 81-63 and made the playoffs three times, with one of those appearances ending in a Super Bowl appearance. On top of his team’s success, Smith won the 2005 NFL Coach of the Year Award (from both the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America). Smith’s track record was perhaps the most impressive that Tampa Bay had seen in its history at the time, but things didn’t go well in his two years with the team.
Smith’s firing brought the promotion of Dirk Koetter to head coach. Koetter had experience as a college coordinator, a college head coach (26-10 at Boise State, 40-34 at Arizona State) and an NFL coordinator. He was the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator for five years before holding the same position with the Falcons for three years and the Bucs for one.
All of that brings us to where we are now. Bruce Arians comes to the Bucs with time spent at both the college and professional levels. He worked with Peyton Manning during his tenure as the Colts’ quarterbacks coach. He later won two Super Bowls with the Steelers (one as a receivers coach and one as the offensive coordinator), then went back to Indianapolis for a pivotal year in his career. Arians re-joined the Colts as the team’s offensive coordinator, working closely with Andrew Luck. When Chuck Pagano had to take a leave of absence due to his battle with leukemia, Arians stepped in as the interim head coach and led the team to a 9-3 record and a playoff appearance. For his efforts, he was awarded the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award.
After his impressive year with the Colts, he took his first official head coaching job in Arizona. In five seasons with the Cardinals, he went 49-30-1, made the playoffs twice and got himself another AP NFL Coach of the Year nod.
Arians’ winning percentage as a head coach in the NFL is significantly higher than what any of the other coaches had before coming to the Bucs. The only other coach to win a Super Bowl ring before his Tampa tenure was Sam Wyche, while the only other Coach of the Year winner was Lovie Smith. Arians is the team’s first two-time winner of the award.
Arians is just the sixth of the franchise’s 12 head coaches to have prior experience as an NFL head coach before arriving in Tampa.
Of course, none of this is to say that Tampa Bay’s previous coaches were bad candidates or bad coaches before they came to the team. This also doesn’t mean that Arians’ time in Tampa will automatically be a success. It’s just notable that his history is like nothing the Bucs have ever seen before. The franchise and its fan base are just hoping that his past success is a sign of things to come in the very near future.