Outgoing Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, who stunned the NFL with his decision Wednesday night to step away from coaching and move into a front-office role with the team, downplayed reports of a rift with quarterback Tom Brady and said his decision to walk away was focused on having a succession plan that benefitted a protégé.
The Buccaneers announced the appointment of former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles as the new coach to replace Arians. Bowles said he has known Arians, his former coach at Temple, for around four decades and noted Arians has always championed Bowles, bringing him along as a defensive coordinator at both of his head coaching stops, with the Arizona Cardinals and then with the Buccaneers.
The curious timing of Arians' decision raised questions about what influence Brady, who reversed course on March 13 on his earlier retirement decision, might have had in the move.
"We have a great relationship," Arians said of Brady. "All the players, there are a few in here, every one of them has gotten cussed out, all right, including him. It's just part of me. That's nothing new. We have a great relationship. As soon as he retired, I think we texted every week, 'Where you at? What are you doing? When are you going to go play golf? When are you getting back down this way?' People gotta write (expletive). It couldn't be further from the truth."
Brady was present at Thursday's press conference, sitting in the auditorium with other players, coaches and media.
Most often, coaching changes happen shortly after the end of a season. Arians was still acting as the forward facing figure of the franchise as late as Sunday, where he represented the team at the NFL annual meetings in Palm Beach, Florida.
Arians said this decision "was building" and was something he was contemplating as far as the end of Tampa Bay's season in January after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC divisional playoffs. After conversations with his family and team executives, however, he said he felt the timing wasn't quite right.
Arians said he was focused on continuing to build the roster, alongside general manager Jason Licht, to leave the team competitive for the future. Then, Brady's announcement of his short-lived decision to retire Feb. 1 further complicated Arians' timeline for retirement. Arians continued to prepare for the upcoming season, heading out to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine at the end of February as well as making preparations for the NFL draft.
Brady reversed course, however, and announced March 13 that he had changed his mind and would be playing for the Buccaneers in the 2023 season. It was shortly after Brady's announcement that Arians said he came to the decision to retire and told Brady about his looming decision to walk away.
Bowles said Arians called him on Monday to let him know that he would be appointed as the new head coach of the Buccaneers. Arians said the rest of the coaching staff didn't know until Tuesday night.
"I thought about it after the season, but it wasn't right," Arians said. "Obviously, going through the combine and all that process trying to build next year's team without Tom, but then when Tom said he'd come back, now it's easy. We're in the best shape we've ever been. There's no better time to pass the torch than now. ...
"Jason and I have been talking about this. Obviously, we included (Buccaneers owner) Joel (Glazer) and Tom and a few other people, but it wasn't spur of the moment. ... I felt very comfortable after talking with Tom that the franchise was in great shape."
Glazer said that Arians would be going into the franchise's Ring of Honor in the upcoming season to commemorate his contributions to the team. The Buccaneers said in a statement Wednesday night that Arians would be transitioning to the front office as a senior football consultant.
"It has been an unbelievable ride," Arians said. "I'm extremely excited about the future and what the future holds for this franchise and for me. A number have already asked: 'Why are you stepping away from the chance to go to the Hall of Fame and win another Super Bowl?' I don't give a (expletive) about the Hall of Fame. Succession is way more important to me. This has been my dream for a long time, guys that know me knew that I wanted one of my guys to take over and that's more important to me than anything."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bruce Arians denies rift with Tom Brady, explains coaching retirement