TAMPA, Fla. — No, Bruce Arians wasn’t wearing his new, gaudy Super Bowl championship ring when he wheeled up in his golf cart after Monday’s practice.
And he wasn’t wearing a championship smile, either.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach came grumbling about sloppy execution he witnessed in some of the drills — and was cutting no slack because of the excessive, muggy heat that undoubtedly took a toll on some of the players.
“Half the guys don’t train here,” Arians snapped. “It’s their own damn fault.”
Arians, of course, is the perfect, straight-shooting voice of conscience for any team, like these Bucs, trying to become the first repeat Super Bowl champion since the 2004 New England Patriots (with, um, Tom Brady). Arians, with Brady surely playing his part in it, is not about to allow the Bucs to slip into some sort of happy, contented outfit basking in glory. He is rather fired up in setting a tone about getting back to basics.
Never mind the victory lap last week, when the Bucs rolled through the White House with Brady cracking jokes and then at a party two nights later, received championship hardware that surely broke some sort of record.
“That’s last year,” Arians told USA TODAY Sports. “We put that to bed Thursday night. That was 2020 finally over. And 2021 started Friday morning.”
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To reiterate his theme, Arians said he scribbled the word “assume” on a whiteboard in a team meeting — loaded with its classic messaging.
“When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me,” he said. “If you’re in a meeting thinking, ‘I already know this,’ we’re going backward. You’ve got to go like you’re hearing it for the first time and start all over again.
“Even if it’s something that one or two guys are hearing for the first time, the rest of them, it doesn’t hurt them.”
So much has been said about the Bucs' culture, and rightfully so, as a factor for their success. They pride themselves as a tight-knit group with a serious work ethic. Some of that existed before Brady arrived, but the icon helped take that culture to another level last season with credibility that went beyond what’s on paper with his resume.
The culture won in the offseason, too, as the Bucs became the first Super Bowl champion during the salary cap era — and first since the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers — to return all 22 starters. That was hardly a given. But it happened because multiple players with the opportunity to leave as free agents and score bigger paydays — including Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David, Leonard Fournette, Shaquil Barrett and Antonio Brown — opted to stay put.
“They love the culture and they all got paid,” Arians said, crediting GM Jason Licht’s role in managing the salary cap. “They might have gave up some money, but they would have lost it in taxes. They wanted to stay together. That COVID year was so different. They didn’t want to leave each other. They got their money and they were happy.”
Donovan Smith, the seventh-year tackle who has been the best and the worst of times with the Bucs, glowed on Monday when describing a locker room that clicks.
“Just think of your closest, most happiest, joking (expletive) out there, just having fun,” Smith said. “It’s a brotherhood. That’s how it goes. A lot of guys like to have fun with each other, but at the end of the day the guy standing next to you — to your right, your left, right behind you — has got your back.”
Winning big surely helps the culture. It can vouch for the notion that the hard work and sacrifice is worth it.
Yet now there’s another layer of this culture for the Bucs to deal with. They’ve tasted the ultimate success. Now check the egos and do it again.
One reason that no team has repeated as Super Bowl champ in 17 years is because no two seasons are identical. The adversities and challenges, the ebb and flow, change from year to year. You can believe that whenever the urge strikes, Arians will remind the Bucs that they are suddenly everybody’s target.
“Embrace it,” he said. “It means you did something. They can’t take that away. But again, that’s rear-view mirror. You want to see what this team can do. See if it can make some history.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tampa Bay Buccaneers must embrace change in bid for Super Bowl repeat