Saturday, October 23, 2021

How Bruce Arians became the ultimate ‘Riverboat gambler’

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Bruce Arians called a fake punt in his first game as a head coach. On the first series of the second half. From his team’s own 1-yard line. On third down.

The seeds for what has become the signature aggressive coaching style — uniquely nicknamed “No risk it, no biscuit” — that Arians will put on display for the Buccaneers in Super Bowl 2021 were planted in 1983 when Temple opened its football season against Syracuse. Actually, go even further back, to when he was an assistant under legendary coach Bear Bryant at Alabama.

“Back when it was a sin to throw the football, we had a deal called ‘Flank punt,’ ” Arians’ longtime friend and former assistant coach Amos Jones told The Post. “You could catch people not prepared. If they put a punt returner deep, you threw a long pass because they were playing with 10 on defense.

was called the ‘Riverboat Gambler’ as far back as Temple,” Jones said. “He taught every kid how to play cards on the plane home from road games, and if I wasn’t playing well as his racquetball partner I was going get one off the back of my head. Yes, he’s competitive.” Bruce AriansAP

Nearly 40 years later, three Temple players and a coach from that first game are part of Arians’ staff that will face the Chiefs on Sunday — and it would’ve been more if Jones had not left in March to join the Giants. So, there was no surprise on the sideline two weeks ago when Arians, 68, bypassed a long field goal and had play-calling protégé Byron Leftwich dial up a go-route with six seconds left in the first half against the Packers.

“He coaches to win,” said Tom Brady, who beat the clock with a momentum-shifting 39-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Miller.

If there’s an opportunity to take over the game, that’s what he’s going to do.”

A poem

“No risk it, no biscuit” is not a slogan for a fast-food chicken joint.

It originated in how Arians described his philosophy when he got his first opportunity to be a full-time NFL head coach with the 2013 Cardinals — 25 years after leaving Temple and one year after filling in for cancer-stricken Chuck Pagano with the Colts. When Arians steps in on defense, it’s only to say, “Blitz more!”

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There were the comments after losses that caught the attention…

“It started when I was young,” Arians said. “One of my coaches put the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling in our playbook, and it talks about not being afraid to throw your hat in the ring — fail or win — bounce back and keep on going. I apply it to everyday life. You are not guaranteed the next day.”

Here’s a section of the poem that Arians might have taken too literally:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss.

Of the five quarterbacks ever to throw for 5,100 yards or more in a season — Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston — Arians has coached all but Brees at one point in their careers.

Brady, in his 21th season at 43 years old, had the second-highest touchdown total (40) and the fifth-highest yardage total (4,633) of his career under Arians. Biscuit!

“He believes you have to put something on the line to get to where you want to be,” receiver Chris Godwin said. “As a player, you love stuff like that. When you have everybody bought into that philosophy, it can be really fruitful.”

Old man’s game

Arians is the oldest head coach to make his Super Bowl debut and could become the oldest to win it.

But, in a way, it feels like the young man’s game of NFL coaching is trying to catch up to his lead. Thanks to the recent emphasis on analytics, punting on fourth-and-short across midfield is ridiculed. Attempting two-point conversions is more popular than ever. NFL scoring records were obliterated in 2020.

Tom Brady has bought into Bruce Arians’ style as a ‘Riverboat Gambler.’ Getty Images

“This ain’t the same league where you ran the ball and got two yards on first down,” said Leftwich, who played quarterback under Arians in Pittsburgh.

We are trying to get the ball to the open guy and make them defend the whole football field. Attack, attack, attack.”

Charlie Batch was a Steelers backup quarterback in 2002 when Arians, as Browns offensive coordinator, dialed up a late third-down sideline pass that would’ve won a playoff game if not for Dennis Northcutt’s drop.

Eight years later, Batch, Leftwich and Jones were on the sideline when Arians and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin decided, “Let’s go win this game!” with a third-down pass in the final two minutes to beat the Jets in the AFC title game.

“It doesn’t matter what the scenarios are,” Batch told The Post. “It will be third-and-1 — an obvious running down — and all of a sudden he is chucking one deep and everybody is like, ‘Really? That’s what he did?’ Defensive coordinators had to respect that he was going to take a shot at any given time no matter the circumstances.”

What’s sometimes overlooked is Arians is not operating on an island.

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He had spent 26 days in the hospital showing leukemia…On Saturday, quarterbacks chose between two scripted call sheets to start the game.

“One is very aggressive. The other is semi-aggressive. There’s no conservative,” Batch quipped. “I’ve been around coordinators whose egos weren’t checked at the door and called plays regardless of if the quarterback feels comfortable or not. He is in the mind of the quarterback.”

‘That’s how I live’

You can buy T-shirts with Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” slogan and likeness for $15-25, but it’s no marketing ploy. What does “biscuit” mean exactly?

“Whatever is needed,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “We like being given the opportunity to go for it in big moments. He talks about it all the time. It’s not just to the media. He’ll drop that line when we are watching two-minute [drill] tape, especially.”

Or on the racquetball court. Or at the poker table. Or on the golf links.

“I hit a lot of balls in the water going for it in two [shots], knowing I can’t get there,” Arians said. “But I know I am not going to get there unless I try. That one out of 10 that makes it, that’s a great feeling. That’s how I live life.”


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