TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians retired in 2011 after the Steelers released him. His retirement lasted one week.
While driving back to Pittsburgh with his wife, Christine, to collect the rest of their furniture, the phone rang and Colts coach Chuck Pagano’s name came up on caller ID.
“She said, ‘Oh, (expletive), you’re taking that job,’” Arians recalled. “‘I haven’t seen you smile like that in three months.'”
Coaching is in Arians’ blood. Rather than fight it or debate whether it’s time to move on, the new Cardinals head coach has come to accept it as an integral part of his identity — even at age 60.
“I talked to (75-year-old Steelers defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau many times, and he said, ‘Man, I’ve thought about retirement, and I would’ve missed two Super Bowls,'” Arians said. “What else are we going to do? When you’re a lifer, you’re a lifer, and I’m a lifer. I embrace this challenge. I can’t wait to get started.”
The Arians era officially began at Friday’s introductory press conference at the Cardinals training complex in Tempe. Arians signed a four-year deal with an option for a fifth season. Shortly after the announcement, the Colts released a statement from Pagano, who missed much of the season after being diagnosed with leukemia.
“We are excited for Bruce, Chris, and his entire family. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I know he will do a great job,” Pagano said. “Arizona hired a great coach but a better man. What he did in my absence was truly remarkable. I am forever in debt to Bruce.”
Arians said he hopes to have his coaching staff in place by Sunday. He’s expected to retain tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens in some capacity; Kitchens was the quarterback at the University of Alabama in 1997 when Arians was the Tide’s offensive coordinator.
Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is also expected to assume the same role with the Cardinals following Ray Horton’s release and subsequent signing with the Cleveland Browns.
“He’s very dear to me,” Arians said of Bowles. “He was one of my captains at Temple. He’s got a bunch of Super Bowl rings as a player. He’s a hell of a football coach.”
The Cardinals came away from two days of courting convinced that the same is true of Arians.
As noted one day earlier, there was a different vibe when Arians took the media podium following his interview on Thursday — he just wasn’t the same as the three other candidates who came through Tempe, those being Ray Horton, Jay Gruden and Darrell Bevell.
Turns out, team president Michael Bidwill felt the same thing when he met Arians for the first time over dinner at Tarbell’s.
“I liked him before we even sat down at the table,” Bidwill said. “He does have a different vibe. You could feel that very soon.”
Whenever a coach at the coordinator level makes the leap to head coach, the man who hires him is also taking a leap of faith. Bidwill said he interviewed close to 10 candidates for the job, including college coaches. But he acknowledged that Arians’ 9-3 term as Indianapolis’ interim coach this season helped remove any doubts that he, general manager Steve Keim and director of player personnel Jason Licht had about Arians’ ability to handle the promotion.
“We all had the same feeling in our gut,” Bidwill said. “You know it when you know it.”
As for philosophies, Arians said the defense will be will be aggressive and attacking, although he wouldn’t commit to a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, instead calling his scheme “multiple.”
Offensively, Arians said he always has six deep pass plays in a game plan and never leaves the game with a bullet left in the chamber. He also stressed the importance of the run game, but not in terms of the numbers of carries but in terms of production and efficiency.
“Ball control is not running the football; it’s converting third down,” he said. “Possession time doesn’t mean crap. (It’s about) production time. We’re looking for a point a minute.”
To achieve that, Arians will have to find a quarterback. That means deciding if injury-plagued Kevin Kolb can be the man going forward or if the Cardinals need to find another QB “behind Door No. 2.”
“The first thing is you look at the skill level. I see what I see,” said Arians, who will only have tape of Kolb as an evaluation tool before April’s NFL Draft. “Fundamentally, can I correct things or can we correct things? Is he salvageable? Has he been hit out?”
That and a host of other personnel decisions will dominate the next couple months once the coaching staff is in place. But when OTAs and minicamps begin in May and June, that’s when Arians hopes to reveal his personality, his trash-talking style, his sense of humor and his love for his players.
“I don’t mind showing emotion,” Arians said. “I see it as a sign of strength, not weakness. I live as hard and as fast as I can. I never lay up. I hit a lot of balls in the water. That’s the way I coach and that’s the way I live.
“I don’t know if there is another one coming, and I don’t want to go to bed tonight thinking I missed something or didn’t take a chance on getting a great shot.”