Newly minted Super Bowl champion Bruce Arians has long been a popular figure among NFL players, notably Black players, for his unmistakable swag. Arians’ wide array of Kangol hats, soulful speaking cadence and no B.S. demeanor, has appealed to many of the 70% of young, Black millennials and Gen Zers that comprise NFL rosters.
They have another more meaningful consideration for appreciating the 68-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, who led his team to a stunning 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV last Sunday, played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Arians has surrounded himself with competent, talented Black men on his coaching staff. As I pointed out last Sunday morning during my regular appearance as a member of WBLS radio’s Open Line-On Line Show, those who did not have a rooting interest in the game but are proponents of racial inclusion should take note that Tampa Bay’s three most important coordinator positions are held by Black coaches. They are the only team in the league with all Black coordinators.
Former Jets head coach, Todd Bowles, is the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator. Byron Leftwich, who had a ten-year playing career as an NFL quarterback, is Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator. Veteran coach Keith Armstrong, who has comprehensive experience coaching on the defensive side of the ball at the major college and professional levels, is the team’s special teams coordinator.
Additionally, Arians has two women coaching on his staff in assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach/physical therapist Maral Javadifar.
Unlike the superfluous rhetoric emanating from the office of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding increasing racial diversity, and addressing the league’s putrid and disturbing track record of hiring Black men for head coaching positions, Arians’ deeds have spoken much more resoundingly than executives’ words. A native of Patterson, New Jersey, he has done as much as an advocate for Black coaches can do to put them in favorable circumstances to become head coaches.
Arians emphasized that his own dispiriting experiences have fundamentally informed his decision making. “I was a winning Super Bowl (2009) offensive coordinator and didn’t even get a phone call [to interview for a head coaching job],” said Arians in the run-up to Sunday’s game. “So the lack of opportunity I think has made me want to give more opportunities to more people.”
He became the interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 when Chuck Pagano stepped away due to cancer, and finally received his first full-time head coaching spot with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Arians was the 2012 and 2014 AP NFL coach of the Year.
The schematic, organizational, leadership and other tangible skills possessed by Bowles, Leftwich and Armstrong were on full display in the Buccaneers’ masterful showing against the Chiefs. Each unit they commanded clearly outplayed their counterparts. Moreover, the Chiefs disappointing offensive output should not reflect poorly on their Black offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, who should have already been hired for a head coaching position.
By comparison, Arthur Smith, fresh off a two-year stint as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, wasn’t adversely assessed based on the Titans’ poor offensive game in a 20-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in their AFC wild-card match up last month. A little over a week later, Smith was named the new head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
There are only three Black head coaches in the 32-team NFL. Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins) and David Culley, hired by the Houston Texans at the end of January. The Super Bowl spotlighted that a lack of high quality candidates isn’t the primary factor.