TAMPA, Fla. -- Quarterback Tom Brady won’t take the field as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for another six weeks -- when NFL teams officially report for training camps -- and that will likely be the first time he gets to see coach Bruce Arians in person.
There have been plenty of video conference calls and phone conversations, but the chance to connect in person is when Arians will get to make his biggest impact with Brady. Arians is big on personal relationships. Ask any former teammate of Brady’s and they’ll tell you "Tommy" is the same way.
Here’s a closer look at why Arians and Tampa Bay were so appealing for Brady and how their partnership will work.
The philosophy behind 'no risk it, no biscuit'
According to his book -- "Quarterback Whisperer" -- Arians has drawn much of his coaching philosophy from an unlikely place: his bartending days at a restaurant called Carlisle’s when he was a student at Virginia Tech. There he learned the importance of analyzing body language, picking up on nonverbal cues and listening from his interactions with customers. He uses those skills to analyze his players, deciphering when his quarterback might need a boost.
His knack for taking risks in his playcalling also can be traced to Carlisle’s. Patrons who felt comfortable opening up to Arians told him they often regretted not taking chances.
All Arians’ plays are designed with a touchdown option and an underneath option. He’ll always remind his quarterback, "If the matchup is right, throw the ball deep. Don’t hesitate, don’t think twice. Don’t ever waste an opportunity to crush the spirit of the defense by completing a long touchdown."
“Bruce always says, 'Let’s go touchdown to checkdown. Let’s read the field deep to short. You can’t throw the ball deep late, so obviously you’ve gotta take your shot if it’s there,'” said former quarterback Tim Couch, who played for Arians when he was the offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 2001-03.
“If you get one-on-one coverage and you don’t take the shot, you’re gonna come off [the field, onto] the sideline and he’s gonna yell at you, because he wants you to throw it down the field. ... A lot of coaches, they don’t want you to throw it deep. Long incompletions are kind of frowned upon and coaches don’t like that, but Bruce wants to take those shots."
That’s a breath of fresh air to Brady, who has heard critics say he has lost his touch on the deep ball and can’t air it out in Arians’ offense.
“He can make all the throws,” Arians said of Brady, whose 43% completion rate in 2019 on passes of 20 or more air yards was his third-highest since it’s been tracked and the seventh-highest in the league in 2019, according to ESPN Stats & Information. (The league average was 38%.) He also threw seven touchdown passes of 20 or more air yards last year, his most since 2006.
Former Patriots teammate Tedy Bruschi says Brady hasn’t used the deep ball as much later in his career because of the talent he had around him.
“The Patriots had a very complex screen game. Why has he been that when he’s been that? If you look at all the years that he has been that, it’s because it’s the talent that he had,” Bruschi said, pointing to their collection of slot receivers and pass-catching running backs versus deep threats such as Randy Moss, who played with Brady earlier in his career.
“I think Bruce will really reignite the fire in Tom because, in New England, they were very much 'intermediate passing' -- short stuff, working over the middle of the field to Wes Welker, [Julian] Edelman or [Rob Gronkowski] -- they really didn’t have the personnel on the outside to take those deep shots down the field,” Couch said. “But they certainly do in Tampa with the receivers they have," such as Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
"I think you’ll see a different Tom Brady this year as far as pushing the ball down the field in Bruce’s system," Couch said. "With those receivers, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be exciting.”
Even as Carson Palmer crept closer to age 40, he was still slinging the ball deep when Arians was coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Palmer never attempted fewer than 65 passes of 20 or more air yards in a season and was always in the top eight in the league in this category.
What makes Arians a 'players' coach for QBs?
In his book, Arians said he believes the coach and quarterback must be “tethered at the hip -- and at the heart.” He plays golf with his quarterbacks. They come to visit him at his lake house in Georgia.
Arians said of his quarterbacks, “They become my sons.”
"I’ve watched this offense over a long period of time -- with a lot of different quarterbacks -- have a lot of success," Brady said. "It’s a great offense for the quarterback."
Bucs GM says Arians and Brady have something to prove
Buccaneers GM Jason Licht is confident Bruce Arians and Tom Brady are a perfect match for the win-now Buccaneers.
Arians believes a coach’s job is to serve as a part-time psychologist for his quarterback, always aware of his mental state so he can push the right buttons in practice and be in tune with his rhythms on game day. With Byron Leftwich serving as offensive coordinator and calling plays on game day, he’ll assume many of those responsibilities as well.
"It’s going to be a lot of fun, so I’m excited to do it," Brady said of working with Leftwich. "I think Byron gets along with just about everybody he comes in contact with because he’s a very personable and outgoing guy."
Under Arians, quarterbacks can expect sometimes up to 150 plays to memorize, which they’ll start installing on Wednesday afternoon with 25 third-down plays and 35 first-down plays. Thursday is for red zone and two-minute situations. Friday is devoted to short-yardage and goal-line plays with blitzes.
After that, Arians will have the quarterback give his 15 favorite pass plays for that week. He will then merge that with the coaching staff’s 15 favorite run plays for the week and he’ll then formulate a script for the first 30 plays of the game.
Arians also will include some of his ideas for pass plays, but the quarterback has the right to veto them. If he’s not comfortable, they won’t run them.
“He’ll say, 'What plays do you like? Let’s go over the red zone plays. Here’s 15 or 20 plays.' It doesn’t matter if he loves it or not -- if you don’t feel comfortable with it, he’ll throw the play out,” Couch said. “He says, ‘It doesn’t matter if I like the play. You’re the one that’s gonna have to go out and execute it. I want to call what you’re comfortable running and understanding and seeing out on the field once you’re out there.'"
Then on the night before the game, Brady will give his favorite third-down calls. Arians wants his quarterbacks taking ownership of the game plan and being accountable for what happens in it.
“He only calls plays that the quarterback likes and he gets a good feel throughout the week, throughout the season for what the quarterback he’s coaching likes to do and what he can do,” Couch said. “He tries to put you in the best situation to be successful on Sunday.
“With Bruce, you feel good about every playcall that comes in to the huddle because you felt like you were part of it. You’re both on the same page, you understand, ‘This is why he’s calling this play -- because I told him I like it in this situation and here we are on third-and-7, midfield, and I know he’s gonna call this play because we already talked about it throughout the week.'”
Getting QB feedback on game days
On Sundays, Arians and Leftwich will rely on the feedback from the quarterback, based on what he’s seeing and his comfort level. But there is an understanding -- the fourth quarter belongs to the coach. In the case of Brady, though, whose 36 fourth-quarter comebacks are second-most in NFL history (behind another Arians protégé, Peyton Manning, with 43), there will likely be more freedom. Brady knows how to seal the deal.
“Byron and B.A. will be extremely receptive to Tom. When I played for both of them, they did so many things to make whichever QB that was playing comfortable,” said Drew Stanton, who played for Arians when he was with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 and then with the Arizona Cardinals from 2013-17.
When asked how many coaches he has been around who allow the quarterback to have this level of freedom, Stanton said, “Not many. [Arians] gives you a lot of liberties, which builds confidence in the system. … B.A. gives his quarterbacks a lot of leeway and gives them ownership within the principles of his offense. It’s going to be exciting to watch [Brady].”
Arians will also give Brady flexibility to make changes based on what he sees at the line of scrimmage. The level of freedom he gives players in this department is dependent on how much he believes he can put on the quarterback’s shoulders mentally. He’s expected to give Brady the same type of flexibility he gave Manning. Arians loves the feel of a good chess match, and now he’ll have a Hall of Fame-caliber tag-team partner.
When Arians was asked what he was looking forward to most out of Brady, he said, “I think probably our audible system, our ‘check with me’ stuff, where the quarterback puts us in the best plays. We didn’t do a lot of that -- we did some of that last year, but not a lot of it. It’s something he’s very comfortable with. ... He’s gonna know the concepts, he’s gonna know that stuff. But the situational stuff -- third down, red zone, two-minute and the no-huddle stuff.”