Fresh off winning the biggest honor in his profession, Bruce Arians is still struggling to express what being named NFL Coach of Year means to him. “It’s humbling to get rewarded when you think you’re just doing your job,” Arians says, “The [Colts] were always Chuck Pagano’s team. I never wanted anyone to doubt that. It meant more to me that we won for him.
“So it’s hard to take an individual reward when you really felt like so many people had their hand in the pile helping. ‘Chuckstrong’ wasn’t just a mantra; it was the way we lived every day.” (See Lessons Learned From the Indianapolis Colts’ 2012 Success.)
From a “retirement situation to Coach of the Year to head coach of the Arizona Cardinals”, it’s been a whirlwind year for Arians. The last 12 months could also serve as a snapshot of the coach’s life. “I got great advice when I first started coaching: ‘If you’re going to get into coaching, better build your house on wheels,’” says Arians. “Some moves are because you want to move, and some are because you have to, but that’s coaching. It’s what I love to do and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
The profession’s twists and turns also molded Arians’ coaching dreams. When he began coaching, his dream was to become a college head coach, which he achieved in 1983 at Temple University. Six years later, the coaching carousel spun again, and Arians’ goals changed to becoming an NFL position coach and calling plays in the Super Bowl. He achieved that dream twice. “The most fun for me in coaching is calling plays, that chess match on Sunday where you’re put to the test,” he says.
Even while he was coaching in the Super Bowl, he was wondering in the back of his mind whether he would become a head coach again. “I thought maybe after Super Bowl 43,” Arians says, “When that didn’t happen I thought maybe it wasn’t in the cards for me.”
After a brief semi-retirement, Arians couldn’t pass up the opportunity when Pagano offered him the ability to call plays again as the Colts’ offensive coordinator. He had missed football too much. Little did he know that the season would answer his career-long question. “[Running the Colts] actually quenched my thirst,” Arians says about his head coaching desire. “I did it under the craziest circumstances possible and was successful. I knew I could do it, I did it, so even if no one wants to hire me then I don’t need it.”
Self-assurance is a trait Arians learned from coaching legends like Jimmy Sharpe and Bear Bryant. Arians’ mantra—“There’s only one person you have to answer to and that’s yourself. As long as you don’t lie to yourself, you’ll be fine”—has served him well throughout his career. Praised for his work developing NFL quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and now Andrew Luck, Arians was questioned when his offensive schemes did not produce the desired results.
Arians welcomed the negativity. He likes the bulls-eye on his back. “When you put everything you have into something and are prepared to make the call, then why second-guess yourself?” he says. “You have enough [other] people who will second-guess you. Everyone thinks they can call plays. If you let them hurt you, you’ll weaken, so you have to stick to your guns, know you’re doing the best you could possibly do at that moment, and live for those moments.”
As the new Arizona Cardinals head coach, Arians plans to continue following advice he got from Bear Bryant: “Work them hard and hug them later.” The last thing Bryant ever told Arians was the first thing he told his new coaching staff.
Arians is excited about the people he’s recruited. “I’ve assembled one of the best coaching staffs ever,” he says, “It’s a strong staff of teachers, because all a coaching staff is is a glorified bunch of school teachers. It doesn’t do you any good to have a wealth of knowledge if you can’t teach it.”
Arians’ new staff has coached a combined 191 years in college and 196 years in the NFL (from Super Bowl I to Super Bowl XLV), plus 66 years as players in the NFL. “It’s a diverse group of guys, ethnically and age-wise,” Arians says.
Despite their differences, the staff of “teachers” will all preach the same message for rebuilding the Cardinals program: trust, loyalty and success. “There are all kinds of schemes and plays, but if you can’t teach them and have a relationship with your players where they truly trust and respect you, then it’s never going to work,” says Arians.
The most important element that unifies the group is that they all share Arians’ newest coaching career goal. “I want the Arizona Cardinals to hoist the Lombardi Trophy,” he says.
Want more Arians? Check out our upcoming feature to find out how the Coach of the Year molds top quarterbacks.