Arians, Bowles honored as NFL's top coaches
PHOENIX -- Bruce Arians strolled down the red carpet before the NFL Honors event on Saturday at the Phoenix Convention Center wearing a composed look and the red Kangol hat he has made fashionable in the Valley.
Arians promised a speech of only about 50 seconds if he won AP Coach of the Year honors, and he was mostly true to his word when that expected honor materialized. In a brief speech, he gave credit to his players, his staff, general manager Steve Keim, ownership and former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles (now the Jets head coach) for an 11-5 season achieved against long odds.
"I wouldn't be a head coach of the year if it wasn't for him and the job he did," Arians said of Bowles, who was later named AP Assistant Coach of the Year. "I was so happy that we started that award and he got it for the first time and now he's going to do a great job for the Jets."
Arians also won this award in 2012 when he was the interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts while Chuck Pagano was battling leukemia. He said that experience helped him immensely.
"You don't usually get to practice coach," he said. "I got to practice coach for a year while Chuck was getting well, but that was such a surreal year that it never felt like I was a head coach. I was just sitting in a seat for a while, while he got healthy.
"To be able to do it with our organization, knowing where we came from -- I just can't thank the players enough. That other one was just magical. This was one where you never got bored because you had to come to work every Monday and start all over again."
In 2014, Arians led the Cardinals to an 11-5 record and just the franchise's fourth playoff berth since arriving in the Valley in 1988. The 11 wins came despite myriad season-ending injuries to impact players on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Carson Palmer, running back Andre Ellington, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and linebacker John Abraham.
"It starts every spring and the first thing I tell them is the most valuable guy on the team is not starting. The most valuable guy on the team is the guy who has to step in," Arians said. "Injuries are going to happen but you can never allow anything to be an excuse. We just don't allow that to happen."
Arians' ability to get the most out of his players and put them in positions to succeed was evident to Keim from the initial job interview.
"We interviewed about eight to nine guys," Keim said. "His infectious personality, his command of the room, the fact that he has the ability to hold everyone accountable and in the end, everybody loves him -- to me that's just a special trait that not many coaches have."
The Cardinals' 11 wins tied the franchise record for a single season. Combined with his 10-6 record in 2013, Arians joined 2014 Hall of Fame finalist Don Coryell as the only coaches in franchise history to lead the team to back-to-back 10-plus win seasons. Arians is the only coach in Cardinals history to do so in each of his first two seasons with the team, and he has more wins (21) than any coach in franchise history through their first 32 games with the team.
The Cardinals' 21 wins under Arians are tied for the most in franchise history in back-to-back seasons (1974-75 and 1975-76). The Cardinals also have a 13-3 home record under Arians, including a 7-1 mark in 2014. Arizona's seven home wins in 2014 were the most in a single season since 1925 (11).
Dating to his time with the Colts in 2012, Arians is 30-14 as an NFL head coach. Among NFL head coaches, only John Fox (35), Bill Belichick (34) and Pete Carroll (34) have posted more wins in their last 44 regular-season games.
Arians is the first coach in NFL history to win this award multiple times in a three-year span with multiple teams. He is the 11th coach in NFL history to win the award multiple times.
He was one of three Cardinals to be honored Saturday night. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald won the Art Rooney Award recognizing the NFL player who demonstrates the qualities of outstanding sportsmanship on the playing field, including fair play, respect for opponents and integrity in competition. The award is voted upon by his NFL peers.
"Every time I walk into the stadium and I see a child with my jersey on it means a lot to me because I know that a parent would never purchase the jersey for their child of a player that they did not think was quality enough for them to wear it," Fitzgerald said. "It's not like I'm consciously thinking about it. It's just who I am. It's the way my parents raised me."
Bowles won the inaugural AP Assistant Coach of the Year after accepting the Jets coaching job in mid-January. He admitted the last few weeks have been a whirlwind as he meets new people and learns a new organization's methods, but "it's starting to slow down."
Under Bowles, the Cardinals defense was ranked sixth overall and No. 1 against the run in 2013. This season, despite the season-long absences of linebacker Daryl Washington (suspension), Dockett (ACL tear), Abraham (concussions), and lost man-games due to injuries to safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee), defensive end Calais Campbell (knee) and linebacker Matt Shaughnessy (knee), the Cardinals still finished fifth in the league in points allowed per game (18.7).
They also remained as aggressive as any unit in the league. In Bowles' two seasons, the Cardinals' blitz rate was 46.5 percent.
"Coach Bowles is well-deserving of a head coaching job," cornerback Antonio Cromartie said after the season. "He's a smart guy. He makes adjustments to put guys in places to succeed and everyone in here respects him."
The only disappointment for the organization came when former quarterback Kurt Warner was not selected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.