When a president takes office, the first 100 days are vitally important in gauging success — real or perceived. Policies are outlined, small, winnable projects are the order of the day and missteps are micro-analyzed.
That same amount of time would be a luxury for NFL coaches. By the time new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and his staff reach their 100th day, they will be well down the road in evaluating their own personnel, they will have evaluated college personnel at the NFL Scouting Combine, they will have built a playbook, they will have completed their significant free-agent moves and they will be in the final stages of their draft strategy.
“Some guys will work into the night while their families aren’t here to try and get ahead,” Arians said. “The key is getting it right, whatever it takes.”
We won’t know if the Cardinals got it right until some later date, but we sat down with Arians to get his thoughts on a wide range of topics that will factor in his success or lack thereof.
FSAZ: You are essentially a first-time head coach, working with a first-year GM and a new staff. What have been the challenges?
Arians: “I don’t see any challenges. There are open lines of communication. Any time you have open lines of communication between coaching and personnel, now you have a chance to win. All of the organizations that I’ve seen that are successful are built this way.
“So many times when you start evaluating new as a staff, people’s egos get in the way. This was a breeze. Everybody had their opinion — we put a Cardinal grade on a player, and it was the smoothest process I’ve ever been involved with. We did what I thought would take four days in two and a half.”
FSAZ: You have stated multiple times that you intend to call plays. What’s the deeper reason behind that? Is there an accountability issue at play?
Arians: “Totally. I’ve always said I won’t look over a guy’s shoulder and second-guess him. I would never want a guy calling plays to please me. You call plays to beat the other team. I’ve worked for some guys that were like, ‘Oh, why’d you call that?’ I wouldn’t want to put a guy in that situation.
It may come to that (point where) I’m comfortable letting (offensive coordinator) Harold Goodwin do it. But we have such a nice flow right now between myself and Harold and (assistant head coach/offense) Tom (Moore) that it’s going to be very easy.”
FSAZ: Will it be tough to call plays while you’re adjusting to head-coaching duties?
Arians: “With the experience level I have, that part’s easy. I’m surprised at guys that never called plays who become a head coach and try to call plays. There are guys who have tried to do that who failed because I think they were overwhelmed. That part of it is easy for me because I know this offense. Finding out what our players can do and putting them in the positions to be successful, that’s the key right now.”
FSAZ: Will it be an adjustment to be in the fan and media spotlight?
Arians: “I love that part. I love having the target on my back. When we win, the players will win and when we lose, I will lose the game.”
FSAZ: Do you expect there to be change at the quarterback position?
Arians: “I expect the position to play better. Whether it’s the same person playing it, I don’t know yet, but whoever’s playing it needs to play it a lot better. Without being able to sit down in the classroom and talk to these guys and talk football and say, ‘Hey, why did you do this? What were you thinking?’ — that’s the evaluation process that can’t be done under this collective bargaining agreement. That part of it makes it a little tougher.”
FSAZ:Larry Fitzgerald was 41st in the NFL in receiving yards and 26th in receptions last season. How do you get him more involved in the offense?
Arians: “I don’t think you can force it to receivers … but there are so many ways to get a guy involved. It’s the rapport between the quarterback and the receiver. I know Fitz’s work habits. He’s going to be out there Wednesday, Thursday and Friday busting his ass, and usually when the quarterback has that, there’s a huge trust factor and he’ll throw some balls where you’re like, ‘Why’d you throw that?’ (And he’ll say) ‘It was Fitz. I knew he’d make a play for me.’”
FSAZ: Have you talked to Larry?
Arians: “He got me a great suit for the Super Bowl. I was walking through the lobby at the Biltmore and I thought he was still in Belize or wherever he was, and we walked right past each other. He said: ‘Anything you need?’ My agent said, ‘He needs a suit.’ The next thing I know, he’s on his phone and he’s got me all lined up. I needed it because I wasn’t flying back home before I went to the Senior Bowl and the awards ceremony (for Coach of the Year). The next thing I know, I had a great couple suits in a matter of 48 hours. That was impressive. He can get it done.”
FSAZ: You talked briefly about the running game after your introductory press conference, mostly to note that Ryan Williams is a Virginia Tech Hokie like you. But you didn’t mention the guy at the top of the depth chart, Beanie Wells. Does he have a future in Arizona?
Arians: “The evaluation process is going on still. He flashes still. He can run the football. I’m learning more about him. I’m anxious to get him out there along with Ryan and hopefully they both get healthy. The track record right there is not real good so that’s something that’s very much a concern. Hopefully, it’s just bad luck.”
FSAZ: Beanie views this coaching change as a fresh start, a chance to get away from the preconceived notions he believes Ken Whisenhunt had about him. How do you approach a player who may have had issues with the past staff?
Arians: “I’ll form my own opinions, but I’ll gather all the information I think I need. The only way I have to evaluate is what’s on tape. What you put on tape is who you are. If it’s good, then obviously I can’t wait to meet you. If it’s bad or not up to standard, you’d better be really waiting to meet me. There are flashes on tape, but I would like to have seen a lot more out of him.”
FSAZ: What are you general impressions of the running back personnel?
Arians: “It’s a position that’s intriguing in the type of guys we have. I think they all have to pass block better. None of them are adequate right now. That’s going to be a huge point of emphasis for us.”
FSAZ: Do you envision Patrick Peterson’s role changing in any way on punt returns to maintain his health?
Arians: “With his athleticism with the ball in his hands, the risk-reward factor is too great on the reward side. Yeah, there’s a risk, but you trust him to catch it and fair catch it, and when he has space, he’s elusive enough not to take any hits. Could a devastating injury occur? Yeah. That’s something we’ll just have to keep monitoring as we go along. But he is such a valuable weapon in field position that you just don’t want to take that away. We’re going in with the idea that he is the guy. He can’t touch the football enough for us. I don’t think there’s any reason to put him on offense, Deion (Sanders)-wise, but it’s not out of the question, either.”
FSAZ: Darnell Dockett has had a pair of well-publicized Twitter wars recently, as well as a disagreement with the coaching staff over strategy last season. Do those incidents concern you?
Arians: “No. I love passion and passionate players, and I think he is one of those. On the field, he plays hard and he plays the way you want it played. Off the field, guys have to make decisions as far as public media and social media.”
FSAZ: Are you concerned about how his behavior reflects on the organization?
Arians: “We talk to all the players about that. What you say (is), “Is it any way a bad reflection on the family?’ We have to have a good relationship with all those guys in teaching them the proper way to do things. But still it’s an individual (choice). Some guys love to do it. It’s a way to market themselves that you can’t take away from them. That’s life in this new decade, and it’s just going to get bigger and bigger.”
FSAZ: Would you ever consider policies to curtail such behavior?
Arians: “I don’t see how you can legislate a guy. It’s fair trade. Just give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re going to do the right thing.’
FSAZ: Who gave you the coaching bug?
Arians: Every person I looked up to as a kid was named ‘Coach.’ I thought they were all rich, too. They all lived in houses that weren’t attached to anybody else’s. I was a city kid in a row house. But the most influential guys were (former Virginia Tech assistant) John Devlin, who gave me my scholarship and (former Virginia Tech coach and Mississippi State assistant) Jimmy Sharp, who got me started in coaching.
“I knew I wanted to be a head coach, and I got very lucky that I got the opportunity when I did at age 30 (at Temple).”
FSAZ: What did they teach you?
Arians: “Teach thoroughly, coach ‘em hard and then hug ‘em later.”
FSAZ: Would it have been enough to have been a head coach in college and a lifelong NFL assistant?
Arians: “After last year with the interim thing (in Indianapolis), it would have, because I learned I could do it. That was very gratifying — not for me to do it, but to have the respect of the players. I knew that when I left, with Reggie Wayne, Andrew Luck, Cory Redding, Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney and others, there was a great deal of respect back and forth, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach is to have the respect of your locker room.”
“If ever given the opportunity, I felt very comfortable that I could get it done, but to have been honored with something like Coach of the Year, I never thought that would be possible.”
FSAZ: Your staff is an unusual mix of age, youth and race. Was there intent there?
Arians: “I think we’re the only staff in the league where both coordinators are African-American minorities, and I’m sure we’re probably the only one that has two guys in their 70s. But no, it just happened that way. I’ve known these guys for so long, and they’re great fundamental teachers and scheme teachers. They’re passionate teachers, and I think that will show the first day of practice.”
FSAZ: There’s a perception that older coaches have a harder time relating to young players. What’s your take?
Arians: “Anybody that knows me knows I have no problem communicating with young guys. Chronological age is something that I don’t think has any bearing on being able to teach or communicate. With the guys on this staff, the respect factor is all that matters, and if you can’t respect these guys you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Look at the collection of Super Bowl rings and Super Bowl appearances and winning on this staff.”
FSAZ: Indianapolis went from two wins in 2010 to 11 wins last season, with you serving most of last season as the interim coach. Should Arizona fans expect a similar turnaround, or will they need to be more patient?
Arians: “This football team is so much better than we were with the Colts. We were drafting starters on offense in Indy. We had 37 new faces when we walked out there. Guys were still learning each other’s names. I don’t see that here. This is a very talented football team. This team is very, very close to going back to winning. It’s a tough division, obviously, but this is a tough place to come play, and we’ve got to make it tougher. Hopefully we can add the right pieces to the puzzle through the draft and free agency to do that.”