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Hurley: Tom Brady Clearly Won Power Struggle With Bruce Arians In Tampa Bay

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Tom Brady doesn't like losing. Whether it's the Super Bowl, whether it's a fourth preseason game, whether it's an unspoken rivalry with a peer, whether it's a board game against a beloved teammate, or whether it's a power struggle with a certain head coach, Tom Brady does not like to lose.

And though it took some time to earn his latest victory, he certainly got what he wanted in Tampa Bay with Bruce Arians' abrupt resignation as head coach on Wednesday night.

Of course, we'd have to make an assumption or two to arrive at that conclusion. The official word from all parties is that everything has always been hunky-dory between the quarterback and the head coach. Lovey-dovey, even, based on Brady's long Instagram homage dedicated to "BA" shortly after the head coach formally announced his move to the front office. (Arians responded with a "Thanks brotha" comment along with an emoji of a glass of whiskey.)

They can say whatever they want, trying to manage their preferred message. But as always, actions mean a whole lot more than words.

And in this instance, the actions have been beyond bizarre, dating back to the end of the Bucs' postseason run.

For Brady, you have the reports of retirement leaking out in a weekend in January. Then you have fierce denials from Brady's dad, Brady's agent, Brady's team, and then Brady himself. One single day after Brady said he hadn't decided on retirement just yet, he ... decided on retirement. So long, football.

The man who's played forever and has had to weigh retirement for the past five years somehow managed his departure from the game as clumsily as possible. It was as if there was no plan at all. (Or it was as if reasons other than a desire to "focus" his "time and energy on other things" that required his "attention" drove that awkward "retirement.")

Then there was Bruce. Boy, was there ever Bruce. When Bruce showed up at the combine in Indy, he faced Brady questions. Of course he did. And what did Bruce say? He not only said that there was zero percent chance of Brady coming out of retirement, but he also threw in a little dig at the quarterback for all of the "never say never" wishy-washy language that Brady used when asked about possibly playing again.

"I think like a lot of these guys now," Arians mused, "he likes to have his name out there."

Arians was also defiant when asked if the Bucs would consider trading Brady to another team, stating that doing so would be "bad business."

"Nope. Nope. Bad business," Arians said. "I'm not trading the best quarterback ever."

(Arians is not the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for those keeping score at home. Ergo, what he said was technically true, as he's not trading any quarterback. That responsibility would fall on the actual GM, Jason Licht. Odd tone to strike.)

Arians also said that if the Bucs got a new big-name, big-money quarterback, only for Brady to later come out of retirement, then Brady would be the starter, and the new QB would have to sit on the bench. That assertion showed quite clearly that Arians was full of baloney.

But, well, bluffs were being called. That's the way things were.

Those quotes came after a report surfaced indicating the Brady-Arians relationship had soured, leading to tension between the two. That report came from former NFL offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger, who had this to say after Arians stepped down on Wednesday night:

Of course, less than two weeks after Arians said the door had been slammed shut on a Brady return ... Brady went ahead and returned. Thus ending the fakest and shortest retirement in the history of fake, short retirements.

Brady was back, but with the potential conflict between the best QB ever and a coach who had one career playoff win prior to having Tom Brady as his QB, it was fair to wonder if Brady had either:

A) Angled a way for the Bucs to trade him somewhere else, or
B) Come to an agreement with owner Joel Glazer at a Manchester United match that Arians would have to go.

While the world waited to find out (that it was clearly option B), it's fair to surmise now that Brady knew how this would end. Otherwise, he wouldn't have come back to play in a situation that he clearly had no interest in. And he certainly wouldn't have gone to work recruiting players to sign in Tampa like he has done in recent weeks. The timing of his return announcement came a day before the legal tampering period opened. That was not coincidental. The rubber, as they say, was meeting the road.

Think about it. Brady clumsily retires. A smirking Arians said he ain't coming back, but if he does come back, he ain't getting traded. Brady comes back. Now Arians is out.

Had it happened in a vacuum, perhaps the happy platitudes and boozy emojis would be believable. But the absurdity of everything that's happened over the past two months makes those words so very hard to believe.

The more plausible reality is that common sense won out. The Bucs had to choose between the greatest quarterback of all time who played at an MVP level last season at age 44 (!!!) or Bruce Arians, a coach who had led a team to the playoffs just twice in six seasons, went 1-2 in the playoffs, who had been in his own fake retirement before coming back to the NFL and leading the Jameis Winston Bucs to a 7-9 record, and who had led the "superteam" Bucs to a mediocre 7-5 record in 2020 before handing control of the offense over to Brady. (The Bucs didn't lose a game after that. Again, that's for the at-home record-keepers.)

Really, there was no choice to make. Arians seems like a cool guy. Jason Licht probably loves him. Joel Glazer probably loves him. Brady might even love him on days that aren't Sunday.

But football's not about love. It's about winning. Nobody's better at winning than Tom Brady, and if the question revolved around whether Brady or Arians held more importance in the Bucs' pursuit of winning in 2022, there really wasn't a question at all.

The Bucs made the right choice, because it's the only choice. Now they'll contend for another Super Bowl. And now we finally have a clear explanation for that inexplicably bizarre offseason in Tampa.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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