Arians' affable approach will be tested by Cardinals

Arians prides himself on being players' coach, but dose of Cardinals, NFL reality might change things.

TEMPE, Ariz. – Bruce Arians got his feet wet as an interim head coach last season with the Colts, winning NFL Coach of the Year honors in the offing.

Since the Cardinals hired him in January, he’s been through the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency, the NFL Draft, a rookie minicamp and two weeks worth of OTAs.

So what’s the current view on this whole head coaching thing?

“It’s still fun,” Arians said Tuesday, noting an important truth. “The honeymoon is still going. We haven’t played a game yet.”

In three and a half months, this marriage will face its ultimate test when the regular season opens. In the meantime, Arians has a few factors working in his favor.

The Cardinals are coming off three straight disappointing seasons that would have made any sort of coaching change feel welcome. But as the pressure mounted last season, his predecessor, Ken Whisenhunt, became increasingly sensitive with the media that covered him and increasingly stiff-jawed in the face of public criticism.

By contrast, Arians’ lighthearted approach and hyperbolic talk feel like a breath of fresh air, particularly when he can turn on the charm and deliver a witty sound bite at the drop of a hat.

Arians prides himself on being a players’ coach, a guy who builds relationships through humor, support and first-rate teaching. Some of that is already on display in his banter with players and the advent of dual practices, where the team is split up to maximize everyone’s participation.

“Small classrooms make for better success in teaching,” Arians said. “You can’t find a diamond in the rough if he’s standing on the sideline watching. You can find one if he’s out there working.”

Arians insists that his affable approach won’t change just because he has donned the head coach’s cap.

“Not for me,” he said. “I just get to interact more with the defense now and the special teams than I would have as an offensive coordinator. I used to do that anyway, but it was more heckling than it was building relationships.”

Perhaps Arians is just diffusing a question he doesn’t yet have to address. Perhaps he really doesn’t know what’s in store for him, or perhaps he truly believes that he can maintain a friendly relationship with his players while serving as their head coach.

Many an assistant has made that assumption only to learn that when you are the primary disciplinarian on a team, the primary decision-maker in playing time and the guy who habitually dissects his players’ performance and attitudes in front a multi-platform media, that friendship is a little more difficult to maintain.

But there are more than a few Arians supporters on the Cardinals’ current roster.

“I know the type of head coach that he’s been. I saw it first-hand last year,” said quarterback Drew Stanton, who played for Arians last season in Indy. “I know how he operates.”

Running back Rashard Mendenhall said that Arians’ presence was a major reason he chose to sign with Arizona rather than visit more teams.

“It’s one of those thing where you just know it feels right,” said Mendenhall, who played for Arians in Pittsburgh. “Before the whole process began, this was a place where I could see myself. Knowing that B.A. was coming down here, having somebody who really believes in you and has a lot of faith in you, that means a lot.

“A lot of guys will say that when they’ve had success with a coach, but I think B.A tries to make everyone feel that way, and I think he’ll keep doing that here.”

If the Cardinals win, that should be fairly simple. But if the Cardinals' struggle in what might be the NFL’s best division, we will find out how plausible this approach with players and the media really is.

“It’s a journey, and you have to enjoy the journey,” Arians said. “I’m going to enjoy it for a little while and we’ll add 'em up in the end.”

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