By Fred Goodall
AP Sports Writer
TAMPA, Fla. — Bruce Arians unexpectedly retired as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a stunning move Wednesday night that the 69-year-old who guided the team to its second Super Bowl title says is not related to health.
It’s the second major retirement announcement for the Bucs this offseason, following Tom Brady’s announcement in February that he was ending his career. Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, returned 40 days later, saying he would return for a 23rd season and noting he had “unfinished business.”
But instead of Arians, Brady will be playing for Todd Bowles after the defensive coordinator was promoted as the coach’s successor.
Arians, a two-time cancer survivor, stepped down as coach of the Arizona Cardinals due to medical concerns in 2017, only to be lured back to the sideline by the then-struggling Bucs two years later. This time, he said, he exits feeling the best he has in “many years” and is looking forward to transitioning into a front-office position working with general manager Jason Licht.
“This team is in a much better place than it was three years ago due to Jason’s great work and the Glazer family’s commitment to winning,” Arians said in a lengthy statement issued by the team.
“I want to focus on what I can give back to this incredible game that has provided so much for me and my family,” Arians added. “I really began thinking about my personal transition plan earlier this offseason. I wanted to ensure when I walked away that Todd Bowles would have the best opportunity to succeed.”
Arians, who will turn 70 this coming season, coached the Bucs to the Super Bowl title in the 2020 season — Brady’s first with Tampa Bay. The Bucs were 31-18 in Arians’ three seasons there and he was 80-48-1 in eight years as a head coach overall when adding in five seasons with the Cardinals from 2013 to 2017.
NBC Sports and the Los Angeles Times first reported Arians’ decision and that Bowles would be replace him.
“I have spent most of the last 50 years of my life on the sidelines as a football coach in one form or another,” Arians said. “I love football. I love the relationships, the strategy, the competition — everything. It has been one hell of a ride, but I know this is the right time for me to make this transition.”
Bowles becomes the sixth minority head coach currently in the NFL, joining Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, Washington’s Ron Rivera, the New York Jets’ Robert Saleh, Houston’s Lovie Smith and Miami’s Mike McDaniel. He also is the fourth Black coach in Bucs’ history, joining Tony Dungy, Raheem Morris and Smith.
Brady, in an Instagram post Wednesday night, said Arians was a major part of his decision to play for Tampa Bay and that he’ll be “forever grateful.”
“You are an incredible man and coach, and it was a privilege to play for you,” Brady wrote. “You are a true NFL legend and pioneer for all the work you have done to make the league more diverse and inclusive. Smart, tough, and loyal are a few of the words to describe your style. I will always remember the conversations we had when you recruited me two years ago and all of the things we discussed came true.”
There was no public indication at the NFL’s annual meetings on the Atlantic side of the state in Palm Beach, Florida, that such a move was coming. Arians was there, briefly, and did an interview with NFL Network about what the team would have done to replace Brady if the quarterback hadn’t changed his mind. Licht addressed reporters for a short time during the meetings, as did team co-owner Joel Glazer.
Arians did not do a group interview there, with the team saying he was leaving for personal reasons. He was also one of the four coaches who opted to not be part of the annual group photo of all NFL head coaches at the meetings.
Bowles was an interim head coach in Miami for three games in 2011, and went 24-40 in four seasons with the New York Jets from 2015 through 2018.
“I am appreciative of the Glazer family and Jason Licht for having faith in me to take on this role, and to Coach Arians for his support and guidance over the past four decades,” Bowles said. “Tampa has become home for my family, and we are excited to remain part of this community for years to come. ... I am eager to get started with our players, coaching staff, and front office in preparation for the 2022 season.”
Bowles was Arizona’s defensive coordinator for a portion of Arians’ tenure with the Cardinals. He reunited with his old boss in Tampa Bay after the Jets fired Bowles following the 2018 season.
Arians said timing of his decision to step away — along with’s Brady return — should serve Bowles well.
“So many head coaches come into situations where they are set up for failure, and I didn’t want that for Todd,” Arians said. “Tom’s decision to come back, along with Jason and his staff doing another great job of keeping the core of this team intact during free agency, confirmed for me that it was the right time to pass the torch.”
Licht said he’s excited to continue working with the former coach.
“Bruce established a culture here that set the foundation for a Super Bowl championship,” Licht said. “In my opinion, he is a Hall of Fame coach, so it is difficult for our football team to lose that type of leader. However, I am excited to have him continuing his contributions to our franchise in his new capacity.”