Earlier this week, LA Times über writer Sam Farmer contacted me and gave me a heads up on an article he wrote profiling Colts interim head coach and offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians. The moment it hit the web, I read it. It did not disappoint.
While the story centering on the team's resilience mirroring that of their head coach, Chuck Pagano, who is fighting leukemia, the "redemption" of Arians is a story I personally find equally fascinating.
As Farmer's article states, when Arians was tasked with taking over as head coach during Pagano's absence, it was a major shift, especially considering where Arians was just nine months prior. There was also tremendous, personal emotion. Pagano had cancer. Arians is himself a cancer survivor. If not for Pagano, Arians is very likely retired from football and fishing somewhere in Georgia. When Pagano went down, and Arians assumed the interim-coach role, it provided Arians a job he'd, apparently, always wanted: A head coaching gig at the NFL level.
Imagine the conflicting emotions.
Farmer's piece also gives great insight into how Arians approached the Week 5 match-up against the Green Bay Packers, his first as the head guy in charge:
Arians took a big gamble in his debut. He decided to go with a no-huddle offense. It was a bold move in light of his team's inexperience.
"If it had been his third or fourth week as a rookie coach, I'd have said, 'OK, whatever you think,'" said his son, who had a brief NFL career as a kicker. "But this was like his third or fourth hour. This was Monday afternoon after lunch; he goes, 'I'm thinking about making a big decision.' No huddle with a rookie quarterback against the [Green Bay] Packers is not what I thought would come out of his mouth."
The Colts won, 30-27.
The last time Arians had a head coaching job was 1988, his last year at Temple running their football program. From there, he came into the NFL as the runningbacks coach for Marty Schottenheimer's Kansas City Chiefs. One of Arians' first tasks was teaching a 260 lbs dude from Nigeria how to play football. That dude's name was Christian Okoye, who had never played the sport at any level before coming to the Chiefs. Okoye ran for 1,480 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1989. He was also THE. BEST. PLAYER. in TECMO Bowl history.
Yes, even better than Bo.
Why run around and away people if you can run through them!
Arians' work with quarterbacks has been well-documented here and by other writers. His coaching of Ben Roethlisberger was probably his most impressive job at he NFL level, in terms of QBs. The two had tremendous success together, and one could argue that it was the Arians hire in Pittsburgh that gave Steel Town what it needed to take home it's NFL record sixth Super Bowl.
But, why was Arians so unceremoniously dumped following the 2011 season if he was so critical to Pittsburgh's success? Farmer gives some insight:
There's much speculation about why Arians was shown the door, but one plausible theory is he was too chummy with Roethlisberger, and the Steelers owners, the Rooneys, wanted a coordinator who would keep the quarterback on a shorter leash.
Insiders say the image of Bill O'Brien, then New England's offensive coordinator, getting into a shouting match with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on the sideline last season left an impression on the Steelers' higher-ups. Some wanted the type of coordinator who would do that, and the one the team hired, Todd Haley, is unquestionably more combustible than Arians.
The Rooney Family, which owns the Steelers, are often treated like NFL royalty and are viewed by just about everyone as an example of what great ownership should be. In many ways, they are. You don't win six Lombardis if you suck. However, I think their reputation has taken a bit of a dent this year with their handling of Arians, and if Farmer's inside sources are telling the truth about the higher-ups impressed with Bill O'Brien yelling at Tom Brady, that's some Jerry Jones level "higher-up stupidity" right there.
"Bruce doesn't yell at Ben enough. Let's can him and replace him with Todd Haley!"
The same Todd Haley who, when he was an OC in Arizona, lost to Arians and Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLV. The same Todd Haley who came off as an unhinged loon in Kansas City.
Make no mistake, should Arians win the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year for his work in Indianapolis, and all signs point to that happening regardless of whether the Colts get to the playoffs or not, that will make the Rooneys and the other higher-ups in Pittsburgh look foolish for letting him go.
In the end, it all seems to have worked out well for Arians. He got to return to a franchise in Indianapolis that he loved to work for. When Pagano took a leave of absence to battle cancer, Arians stepped in and, given the circumstances, coached brilliantly. Now, as we all eagerly await Pagano's return to the sidelines (the target date still seems to be December 30th at home against the Texans), the question everyone is asking is, what will happen to Arians?
To coach's credit, Arians shot down any notion that he will retain head coaching duties once Pagano returns. However, what happens after the season ends? Seven NFL teams could have head coaching vacancies in the days to follow the final Sunday of the 2012 regular season. Two of those franchises (the Browns and the Chiefs) are places Arians used to work as an assistant. If you're a tea like KC, and maybe you're thinking of drafting a Geno Smith out of West Virginia, a coach like Arians would be an attractive hire.
For now, Arians is mum on his future plans. He just seems to be happy he got another chance, and that he's absolutely made the most (and best) of it.