If there’s an NFL head coach most squarely in the high-risk category as it pertains to COVID-19, it’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Bruce Arians.
Arians, 67, is the league’s third-oldest head coach — Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick are both 68 — but his past battles with cancer make him particularly vulnerable to the virus and its effects.
The vast majority of deaths related to coronavirus have been in the age group of 65 years and older, and data shows that males have been more vulnerable than females.
Additionally, those with compromised immune systems, such as Arians, are considered high-risk candidates. He once had to step away from coaching for health concerns, leaving the Arizona Cardinals after the 2017 season, before joining the Bucs prior to the 2019 campaign.
But Arians appears to be undaunted — and prepared. He told the Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud that he has a plan of attack to give him the best chance to remain healthy this season.
“I got to be real careful,” Arians said Monday. “I’ll probably double with a mask and a (face) shield. You know, because l already had my scare out there [in Arizona] once a couple of years ago.
“For me personally, I’ve got a plan and I just have to be smart enough to stay with it.”
Why risk it?
Arians said he had not finished any of his first six seasons as a head coach, one as an interim with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 followed by five more in Arizona, without a visit to the hospital. Last year was the first time that didn’t happen, according to Arians.
He has had cancerous tumors removed from three different body parts — prostate cancer in 2007, skin cancer in 2013 and renal cell carcinoma in his kidney in 2016 and 2017. Arians walked away from his contract with the Cardinals following that most recent health scare, despite having multiple years left on his deal.
Before getting the Buccaneers job last year, Arians even was required to pass a health exam. But he’s willing to take the chance despite a global pandemic, one that’s still hitting the country hard in certain parts.
Why? Well, this is no ordinary season in Tampa. The Buccaneers had a historic offseason, signing QB Tom Brady and adding a cherry on top in Brady’s trusted tight end, Rob Gronkowski.
That has made the Bucs a Super Bowl contender in some people’s minds. Arians has never won a ring as a head coach, although he was an assistant on two Pittsburgh Steelers teams that won Super Bowls (XL and XLIII).
Arians said that the team, led by Bucs director of athlete performance Greg Skaggs, have come up with a protocol that they believe will help slow the viral spread and keep people safe.
“I brought the staff in for that reason, to make sure they all bought into the protocols, that we all walked the right way in the hallways and had our masks on,” Arians said. “I jumped on a bunch of their asses because the players aren’t going to do it if we don’t do it.”
He’s even willing to take measures that he normally wouldn’t otherwise.
“All my team meetings, we’ll do in the indoor facility like a big auditorium and I’ll use a microphone, which I hate using, but I have to,” Arians said. “If I’m going to take my mask off, I’ve got to be far enough away to get my point across and the Bucs have some big TV screens to put my messages on.”
Arians aware of but unfazed by the risks
Even the best intentions can fall short.
Major League Baseball has had early testing issues as it tries to work out the kinks before the season starts. A number of NBA training facilities have had to shut down. The NFL reportedly is watching other sports league closely to learn from mistakes and mimic the best measures possible.
But still, there will be challenges unique to football — and perhaps unique to the Bucs as well.
Three Cardinals assistants are over 60 years old: offensive consultant Tom Moore is 81, safeties coach Nick Rapone is 64 and QB coach Clyde Christensen is 64. The Bucs already have had one assistant test positive for COVID-19, plus two others who were sent home for two-week quarantines. Florida has also seen positive-test numbers swell in recent weeks.
“Tom is probably the healthiest one of all of us,” Arians said. “We’ve got to be careful.
“The players, they’re going to all get sick, that’s for sure. It’s just a matter of how sick they get.”
Arians also eerily said pre-pandemic last year that he’d be OK with the idea of dying while coaching football.
“You can die at any moment doing anything. I mean, so why not do what you love to do?” he said in a 2019 episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” telling Andrea Kremer, “If I die on game day, have a drink. Celebrate.”
We’re not sure if Arians has changed his tune on that idea. But he certainly appears to know the risks he’s facing and apparently won’t take this season lightly — even with multiple concerns facing him and the rest of the NFL.
“I don’t think it will look too different other than I will still wear a mask for sure,” Arians said. “And we’ll see how the headsets work and stuff talking through a mask. That’s part of it. And being outside.
“Being in an indoor stadium, that worries me a bit more. And I’m really concerned about the away hotels and away locker rooms. That’s a big point of emphasis. The ventilation in those locker rooms is terrible with guys getting out of the showers and getting treatment.”
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