The Cardinals confirmed the hiring in a release Thursday night. Arians, who will receive a four-year contract with a club option for a fifth season, will be introduced at a 1 p.m.
Arians interviewed with the Cardinals on Thursday, and when he sat down at the media podium afterward, the vibe was noticeably different.
The first four candidates were a varying mixture of youth, bravado, and energy. Arians, 60, displayed wisdom, humor, insight and a quiet confidence born of years of experience. Maybe that’s why the Cardinals settled on Arians as their next head coach, ending a two-and-a-half week search since Ken Whisenhunt was fired on Dec. 31.
While it will be his first NFL head coaching gig after about two decades as an assistant, he did serve an apprenticeship this season with the Colts, serving as interim head coach while Chuck Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia.
“It’s not as hard as it’s supposed to be,” Arians quipped to a chorus of laughter, when discussing his first opportunity in the big chair with the Colts. “I think it’s about building relationships. As long as it’s built on trust, loyalty and respect, anything is possible.”
Arians and the Colts certainly defied the odds this season. With Indy off to a 1-2 start, Pagano took a leave of absence after being diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 26. In his absence, Arians led the Colts to a 9-3 record before Pagano returned for the season finale and led the Colts in their playoff loss to Baltimore.
That opportunity “answered all the questions I ever had” about being a head coach, Arians said. “I hope it answered the questions that everybody else has had for all these years.”
Indianapolis was coming off a 2-14 season in 2011. According to Arians, there were 36 new faces including rookie quarterback
Andrew Luck, the top pick in the draft.
“There was no handbook on this one,” Arians said of the myriad challenges he faced. “(But) we threw the word rebuild out the first week that we arrived. The Indianapolis Colts had been in the playoffs for 10 straight years (before 2011). We’re not rebuilding.”
In spite of the club’s remarkable rise, Arians said he never lost sight of the greater fight Pagano was waging away from the club.
“The light never went off in his office,” Arians said. “I probably had my most memorable Christmas in my life on Christmas Eve. When I left the building (the Colts’ facility), the light was off. Chuck came back that day and he turned that light off. I had to sit in my car for a minute and dry up the tears. It was a special Christmas Eve for me, personally, and we had already clinched a playoff spot.”
Arians has been an NFL assistant on five different teams, along with stints at four different colleges — including six years as head coach at Temple, where he had a 21-39 record from 1983 through '88. It's somewhat ironic that his first NFL head coaching job comes at age 60 — he was 31 when hired at Temple.
Arians had interviewed for several jobs, most recently, he was the runner-up for the Bears job that went to Marc Trestman.
Despite that continued disappointment, Arians showed no outward signs of frustration. In perhaps a telling and foreshadowing quote on Thursday, he had this to say about this elusive goal.
“There are some young coaches on the teams that are in the championship (games) and are going to the Super Bowl that are not going to get an opportunity in a year where (eight) jobs were open, just because their team won,” Arians said. “Maybe I was a victim of that a couple times. Hey, I’ll take the Super Bowl ring and look back later. You can’t worry about why you never got one or why have you got one this time. I’m just happy it happened.”
Arians will have multiple decisions to make in the short term in tandem with new general manager Steve Keim. Most notably, he’ll have to decide if he will retain defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who had been a candidate for this job. Horton and Arians worked together before when they joined the Steelers staff in 2004.
When asked about this possibility, Arians declined to speculate.
“Obviously, I know Ray. I’ve got a history with Ray,” Arians said. “But all those things would be way down the road. Guys are under contract. You can’t really comment on staff members at this point in time.”
Horton is still under contract for one more season, but there are reports that Arians has already promised the defensive coordinator position to Todd Bowles, who spent the 2012 season in Philadelphia — half as the DC after Juan Castillo was fired in October.
Beyond that, Horton will surely be miffed and feel slighted that he was passed over for a job with which he had a great deal of familiarity, given his two seasons here and his strong bond with the defensive players. If he is let go, the Browns may be interested in bringing Horton on as their defensive coordinator according to multiple reports.
Horton was one of five candidates for this job along with Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who took the Chargers head coaching job, Bengals OC Jay Gruden and Steelers OC Todd Haley, an assistant with the Cardinals during their Super Bowl run.
As for personnel, Arians and the Cards will have to evaluate the futures of several prominent players including strong safety
Adrian Wilson, running back Beanie Wells and, of course, quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
Arizona’s offense finished the season ranked 32nd in the NFL, but the thought of rebuilding an offense and stabilizing the quarterback position did not seem to worry Arians, who shrugged at the notion of a daunting challenge.
“I’ve gone through this so many times at different places with quarterbacks,” Arians said. “I think guys can improve. Guys can be coached to be better. There is a door No. 2 somewhere. (General manager) Steve (Keim) and all the guys, they’ll find door No. 2.
“If not, you take the guys you’ve got, you coach them as hard as you can, and make them better.”
Arians, who was a wishbone quarterback at Virginia Tech in the 1970s, has some interesting recent connections to the Cardinals. He took over as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator in 2007, replacing Whisenhunt after he was hired by Arizona. Arians spent five seasons in that job before moving on to Indianapolis. His replacement in Pittsburgh was Todd Haley, offensive coordinator of the Cardinals' only Super Bowl team and rumored to be a candidate for this job before Arians' hiring.