PALM HARBOR ― Tom Brady could not make it this year to the Arians Family Foundation gala at Innisbrook Resort.
He didn’t just send his regrets to Bruce Arians.
As usual, a gift planned by the Bucs quarterback demonstrated impeccable timing.
“Tom just sent me a picture (Sunday). He got a present for me,” Arians said, smiling. “It’s a $50,000 watch. He says he’s bringing it to me. Who does that if we hate each other? As soon as he’s back in town, we’ll play golf.”
Arians retired last month to accept a front-office position and allow defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to take over as head coach.
But ever since that decision, there have been unsubstantiated reports that Brady’s relationship had soured with Arians.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Arians has said repeatedly. But he knows the speculation will continue.
“It’s never going to go away, no matter what anyone says,” Arians said. “It’s a national narrative that they think they know, but they don’t.”
Here’s something many may not know: Arians confirmed he nearly retired from coaching shortly after the Bucs won Super Bowl 55 following the 2020 season.
“Yeah, and I couldn’t,” he said. “I couldn’t guarantee who would get the job. I thought I’d guaranteed it in Arizona (when he retired after the 2018 season), and it didn’t happen and five guys didn’t have jobs. This way, I guaranteed 31 families were taken care of. That was big for me — and her.”
Arians nodded to his wife, Christine, who is the driving force behind the family’s foundation. It supports CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in making sure that children who are involved in the court system, as a result of abuse or neglect by their families, receive the love and help they need.
Last year, the gala and golf tournament at Innisbrook raised more than $750,000.
While Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski did not make the event this year, Arians received plenty of support from coaches and players, a list that included Mike Evans, Donovan Smith, Carlton Davis, Tristan Wirfs, William Gholston and Grant Stuard, among others.
Former Yankees pitcher David Wells donated a baseball autographed by the late Don Larsen, David Cone and himself — the only three Yankees to throw a perfect game ― for the silent auction.
Two former Bucs quarterbacks ― Vinny Testaverde and Steve DeBerg ― also attended the gala.
A year ago, it was a much different time for the Bucs and Arians. The team had just won Super Bowl 55, and the gala was one of the first social gatherings by the team due to COVID-19 protocols. Arians was the toast of the NFL and preparing for an NFL title defense.
Since announcing his retirement, Arians said he has been sleeping better, feels healthy and has been watching video of some of the prospective Bucs draft picks, offering input when needed. Occasionally, he has made a wrong turn and ended up in the office that now belongs to Bowles.
“I almost walked into my (old) office a time or two,” Bowles said. “I got off the back elevator. I’m so used to a routine, I took the long way around. I’m like, ‘Oh, my office is down on the other end.’”
Arians reflected on his three-year coaching career with the Bucs. ”It’s been short, but it’s been fantastic,” he said. “A great ride and, like I said I said, I’m looking forward to staying part of it as long as I can in whatever role I need to be in.”
Arians said being able to remain with the organization as senior advisor to general manager Jason Licht is perfect for him.
“That’s the best part. I’m part of it, wherever I’m needed, and really happy,” Arians said. “Todd is in a great situation. You couldn’t ask for a better one.”
The change in Arians hasn’t been lost on his wife.
“I don’t know how many football coaches you know, but they’re usually men of few words,” Christine said. “(Bruce) would come home after work, and I’d ask him a question and I’d get a grunt. Then I’d say, ‘Is that a yes or a no?’ And that’s how the conversation went.
“I’d ask a question, and then I’d have to ask a follow-up question. He came home the other night. Chatty Kathy. I was like, ‘Oh my God, who is this man?’ It was lovely. But that’s kind of the difference. He’s relaxed now.’”
It’s about time.
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