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NFL

Bruce Arians Debased Himself Because That’s His Job

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

NFL head coach is an impossible and ludicrous job: impossible to get and hold and most especially to do, ludicrous to want or aim for. By definition, by all but explicit requirement, it is only available to absolute loons, hollow abominations capable only of whatever will get them the job and of virtually anything that will help them hold onto it. Sometimes this involves a silly performance of, like, Moral Strength and/or Iron Resolve and/or The Long View, traits utterly and absolutely incompatible with ever becoming or remaining an NFL head coach but which people—perhaps most especially NFL head coaches themselves—nonetheless sometimes like to imagine an NFL head coach possessing. Which brings me to Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians.

Here’s Arians, on March 26, 2020, answering a question about whether the Buccaneers would pursue Antonio Brown, the wideout whose career had fallen apart over the previous year amid multiple sexual assault accusations and more instances of other criminal and/or dysfunctional behavior than I’ll bother recounting here:

“It’s not gonna happen. There’s no room. It’s just not gonna happen. It’s just not a fit here. […] No. I just know him and it’s not a fit in our locker room.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

This was in the offseason, when Drawing A Hard Line neither cost nor risked anything; given the choice between saying the truth (I don’t feel a need to add him to the team right now, but I’ll definitely consider it later if our receiving corps needs reinforcement) and issuing a self-serving performance of fine granular sensitivity to the absolute chemical necessity of keeping poisonous antisocial dickheads out of the locker room, Arians chose the one the flattered him the most right then. Not an openly provisional “Who knows?” but a definitive “No.” The Buccaneers then signed Brown the following October, amid a bunch of injuries to other pass-catchers on the roster. Of course they did. Whatever might have made him not a fit in their locker room for sure slotted a little lower on the list of priorities than what made him a fit on the field for a team—and coach—desperate to get as much as it could out of however much time its then-42-year-old quarterback had left.

Here’s Arians on that (emphasis added):

“It’s an insurance policy,” said Arians. “When we don’t have Mike [Evans] and we don’t have Chris [Godwin], why not have another Pro Bowl caliber player that’s available and fits everything we need? So why not? We have good players, and you can’t have enough of them. In Chicago, we had one of our top guys out there on one leg. Why not have another one?

Buccaneers.com

The Bruce Arians of only seven months prior might have answered that question, Because he’s not a fit in our locker room, but of course he would be bullshitting, as he was when he said it the first time.

A head coach’s duty is to the team’s win-loss record; they are not, are not remotely qualified to be, and definitely shouldn’t be judges of the immoral or criminal off-field behavior of the people who work for them. The point here is not to suggest that his having consented to the signing of Antonio Brown, or even the possibility that he changed his mind on the subject, make Bruce Arians a scumbag. When doing so suited his purposes, he pretended to be doing the job of head coach on one set of entirely fictional terms—with a degree of leadership privilege and authority he does not possess and in which his personal job security is not chasing him around the room whipping a towel at his butt at literally all moments—and then later on did the job of head coach on its actual terms, which most emphatically include an unblinking willingness to go back on anything you ever said before in your life.

So. Here’s Bruce Arians, also back in October of 2020, to Peter King, on the thinking behind adding Brown to the Buccaneers (emphasis added):

“Injuries,” Arians said. “I mean, we got two Pro Bowl receivers [Mike Evans, Chris Godwin]. We went to Chicago with none of them, really. They were hurt. And here’s a guy that’s a Pro Bowl type player . . . We’re on the hook for nothing in this deal. He screws up one time, he’s gone. I don’t think he will because he wants to play.”

Pro Football Talk

And here he is, talking to SiriusXM NFL Radio around a month later (emphasis added):

He’s been a model citizen. If and when he’s not, we’ll move on. He knows that. Our team knows that.”

SirusXM NFL Radio

And here’s Bruce Arians in his Monday press availability, answering questions about the team’s decision to bring Brown back, after a three-game suspension by the league for buying and using a fake vaccination card, which is not only a serious federal crime but also an incredibly fucked-up and irresponsible thing for a football player to do:

“Well the history has changed since that statement, you know, lotta things went on last year that I was very proud of him, and, I made a decision that this was best for our football team.”

And on the subject of what people might think of that decision in the context his earlier absolute proclamations about what would happen if Antonio Brown screwed up even once:

“I could give a shit what they think. Only thing I care about’s this football team.”

I suppose in some strict sense this makes him a hypocrite, or a waffler or whatever. I don’t think anybody over the age of around 11 would be all that shocked or scandalized by it. To me it’s all much more useful as an illustration of the absurdity essential to the job, which requires tinpot Douglas MacArthur theater from the absolute sweatiest, most shameless, most overwhelmed itinerant bozos ever to tell a staffer exactly what size of striped Zubaz pants they’ll need 40 pairs of.

The funny thing here, to me anyway, is that if he hadn’t previously wasted his time with the Hard-Ass Sheriff Arians Who Won’t Tolerate Any Misbehavior Around Here act, it would be perfectly unremarkable for the Bucs’ coach to say, Our top two receivers are out with injuries and I’m not willing to make any decision that thins our roster out even further in that area, or even, I definitely do not have the clout within the organization to get rid of Antonio Brown without Tom Brady’s assent, and, Tom wants to keep him. It would even be fine for him to say, I simply do not have the professional standing to prioritize anything other than maximizing this team’s chances of winning the next game and/or avoiding any affirmative choice that anybody might pinpoint as a reason why we lost it. He’s an NFL coach. His job performance crystallizes on whether he wins a gameshow once a week. It’s fine. The job is not to have strong principles or a sturdy backbone or zero tolerance for breathtakingly immoral behavior; if anything, the job demands very explicitly that one not have those things. It’s funny that Bruce Arians nevertheless pretended to. Who did he think he was fooling, if not himself?