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In ‘C-plus’ health, Bruce Arians sees Bucs-Cards parallels before Super Bowl

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) hugs head coach Bruce Arians on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, in New Orleans. The Buccaneers won 30-20. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Bruce Arians’ time with the Arizona Cardinals came with its share of what-ifs.

What if a series of health issues hadn’t forced him into retirement after the 2018 season?

What if the Cardinals in the 2017 NFL Draft hadn’t been leap-frogged in the order by Kansas City and Houston, which respectively selected quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson? Arians has made it public that Arizona would have drafted one of those quarterback had they been available at No. 13.

Maybe Arizona would have found itself on a more stable long-term trajectory, keeping Arians around with his focus on developing a young signal-caller.

“That’s hard to say,” Arians said Tuesday when Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf posed that scenario. “So much depended on my health. Those guys might’ve made it a little bit easier.”

Instead, Arians retired, sat out 2018 and got his health in order enough to scratch his itch.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Arians prior to 2019 and the head coach assembled a staff filled with many former Cardinals assistants. Arians has deferred responsibilities to people like play-caller Byron Leftwich, who got his first coaching job with Arizona and under head coach Steve Wilks in 2018 was interim offensive coordinator.

Now Arians and his staff find themselves preparing for Super Bowl LV, where his Tom Brady-led Buccaneers will face the Mahomes-led Chiefs on Feb. 7.

As he’s maintained since calling it a coaching career with Arizona, Arians’ health has been his priority. He’s in a good place three years after retiring with the Cardinals.

“Dude, I’m doing great. I’m probably up to a C-plus,” Arians joked Tuesday.

Arians sees parallels between his Bucs team and his old Arizona squads that never got beyond the 2015 NFC Championship game.

A roster teeming with talent made a leap with the addition of a franchise quarterback.

“We were (already) a really good football team. We had a lot of really good, young players,” Arians said. “The thing we missed is the confidence factor of someone who has been there and done it. When Tom decided to come here, it legitimized our locker room very, very much like Carson Palmer did when we came to Arizona.”

Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht has built depth by snapping up free agent veterans like tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Leonard Fournette and receiver Antonio Brown.

The defense doesn’t get talked about enough, but that unit has been the more consistent one spanning the entire 2020 season. Pass-rusher Shaq Barrett, lineman Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Lavonte David are established forces, but Licht has hit at a high rate on recent draft picks like linebacker Devin White and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

Speaking of drafting well, Licht’s 2020 first-round pick, No. 13 overall pick Tristan Wirfs, is already established himself as one of the best right tackles in the NFL. At receiver, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have become homegrown All-Pro talents.

Arians called the 2020 Buccaneers one of the most talented teams he’s coached.

“It’s right there with our 13-3 team,” Arians said of his 2015 Cardinals squad that went to the NFC title game. “They’re very, very close.”

Of course, Arizona didn’t get over the hump that year. Arians’ health issues followed.

In the preseason of 2016, Arians was diagnosed with diverticulitis but returned to the sidelines days later.

In February 2017, he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tissue in his kidney. So Arians’ “C-plus” health these days is a step forward.

It doesn’t sound like a Super Bowl victory in two weeks will satisfy Arians, pushing him out of the head-coaching chair.

He’s advocated for his assistants like Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to earn head coaching gigs, and Arians was asked Tuesday if either could succeed him.

“Hell no, brother,” Arians told Doug & Wolf. “They’re going to have to wait because we’re going for two.”


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