BA to the SB: Virginia Tech's First Head Coach to Win the Lombardi?
Bruce Arians is the latest graduate from Virginia Tech to reach the National Football League’s highest stage, the Super Bowl: but his journey to becoming one of the greatest and most fearless coaches is much more than that.
“No risk it, no biscuit” Arians stated to NFL network, reflecting his methodology as a Head Coach.
“B.A”, as he is commonly known, chose Virginia Tech as his playing destination for collegiate ball, setting the program record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in his senior season with 11.
Rather than leaving school, the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach chose to return to VT in 1975 as a graduate assistant, working under coach Jimmy Sharpe.
After three more years in Blacksburg, two seasons working as a Wide Receivers and Running Backs Coach at Mississippi State and one with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Arians was offered his first major gig: the Head Coaching spot at Temple University.
The Owls enjoyed minor success under the first-time Head Coach, though ultimately fell to 27-39 by the time Arians’ tenure ended.
The former Hokie would bounce around college and the NFL for the next 13 years, making stops with the Kansas City Chiefs, Mississippi State (again), the New Orleans Saints, Alabama (again), and the Indianapolis Colts until finally, another breakthrough.
In 2001, newly announced Cleveland Browns Head Coach Butch Davis hired Arians to serve as his offensive coordinator. The Browns were fresh off of a 3-13 season and in desperate need of life on offense, having finished dead last in points (10.1) and yards (220.6) per game.
By the end of his inaugural season, the Arians-led offense had added an additional 7.7 points and 38.9 yards per game to their average. Still a ways off of the median standard, but a profound step in the right direction nonetheless.
After two more seasons of improvement upon the starting position, Arians relocated to the Pittsburgh Steelers, this time serving as the Wide Receivers Coach for two seasons before taking over as the Offensive Coordinator of a roster loaded with talent.
With the full compliments of Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and Heath Miller, Arians and the Steelers found their way to the Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.
The #2 seed Steelers were riding high after a 23-14 win over their rival Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship and were tasked with scheming their way past a staunch Arizona Cardinals defense led by Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby and Antrell Rolle.
Although the contest is best remembered by James Harrison’s 100-yard touchdown return at the end of the first half, Arians and the Steelers’ offense put 20 points on the board while controlling the time of possession and ultimately came out on top, 27-23.
A couple more seasons in the Steel City and Arians was on the move again, making one stop in Indianapolis to act as the Offensive Coordinator and Interim Head Coach before spending four years leading the team that he beat in Super Bowl XLIII, the Arizona Cardinals.
The high-octane leader led the Cards to an average of 11.3 wins and made one NFC Championship appearance in his first three seasons out west before faltering in the 2016-17 campaign, finishing 7-8-1.
The 64-year old Arians decided to step down after his subpar season and retire, seemingly closing the final page to a long and successful coaching career.
“Somehow, some way, I’m going to be in touch with the game” promised the former Hokie.
Keeping good on his claim, Arians and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to terms on a four-year contract on January 8th, 2019, immersing him back into the NFL and the game of football.
The “Suckaneers”, as they were referred to, were not exactly a desirable destination for most experienced coaches. Tampa Bay had a history of poor performance and was, statistically, the most losing franchise in American professional sports.
The Bucs went on to score the fourth-most points and gain the third-most yards in Arians’ return season but missed the playoffs, finishing with a familiar 7-8-1 record.
Arians’ team struggled to win close contests due to costly penalties and a tremendous turnover problem, giving up the football 41 times, a league high.
Amongst the madness of 2020, Arians and the Buccaneers managed to strike gold: a supposed washed-up and aging quarterback named Tom Brady relocated to south Florida, bringing Rob Gronkowski along with him.
Already spoiled for riches, Arians made the call to sign Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown during the regular season, adding to a star-studded cast that included Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Ronald Jones II.
Many pundits questioned how Arians would amend his usual style to allow for Tom Brady’s frequent dump-offs and quick throws that were so prevalent in the New England system. The Virginia Tech grad responded by turning Brady loose in an air-raid attack, continuing to push the ball down the field like nothing had changed.
Arians and the Bucs finished the season 11-5, defeated the Washington Football Team, New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers in the NFC portion of the playoffs, and are now one win away from becoming Super Bowl champions.
For a man who has accomplished so much already, it seems as if this could be destiny for “B.A.”: leave retirement, take over a team known for losing and lead them to the promise land in a unique, authentic manner.
Arians will hope to become the first Virginia Tech graduate to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as a Head Coach when the Kansas City Chiefs visit his home Tampa Bay on Sunday, February 7th, less than two weeks from now.