The coach of the year award this year is going to be an interesting and difficult decision. Right now, I'd say Ron Rivera of the Panthers should be the frontrunner, but then you've also got guys like Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Jets coach Rex Ryan who are deservedly getting some coach of the year talk. One guy who hasn't gotten much of that talk but absolutely deserves it as well is the defending coach of the year award winner: Bruce Arians.
What a year it has been for him.
When Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia early last season, Bruce Arians - the team's offensive coordinator - stepped into the interim head coach role. And he handled it brilliantly. Under Arians' guidance, the Colts went 9-3 and burst into the AFC playoff picture in dramatic fashion. They earned a wild card berth and traveled to Baltimore to face the Ravens, with Chuck Pagano on the sidelines for the second straight game after his return. Arians wasn't on the sidelines, however, as he was hospitalized with an illness and was forced to miss the game. With how close the Colts were for most of the game, many fairly wondered whether the loss of Arians was a major reason for the loss to the Ravens. It's likely that was the case.
Arians was named the NFL's coach of the year for 2012. He kept his humility and his loyalty all the way through, however, saying as he accepted the award:
"I wasn't coach of the year, the organization was coach of the year. More than anything it was Chuck. Coach, you set the path. We just rode the bus and kept the lights on the whole time."
He actually did leave the lights on in Pagano's office, from the day he left to the day he returned - that light never went off, and Arians didn't take Pagano's office. He never acted like he was the head coach but instead acted like he was just filling in for a dear friend who needed help - which he was. Through it all, the Colts players, coaches, and fans loved Bruce Arians. The way he handled the entire situation and his attitude and character was top notch.
Chuck Pagano said back in January of Arians:
"Let me just say this: We do not want to lose Bruce Arians. He's just... we know what he is. And we know what he means to this organization and this football team. So, let me just say that, first and foremost."
Under his guidance, Andrew Luck shattered many rookie records and began to emerge as one of the league's best quarterbacks, period. The offense was brilliant in 2012 under Arians and the team made a playoff appearance thanks to Arians' guidance and his ability to keep the team together through very trying circumstances.
When teams came calling, it became clear that he wasn't going to be in Indianapolis much longer, something that saddened everyone associated with the team, from the coaches and players down to the fans. The Arizona Cardinals hired him as head coach to replace Ken Whisenhunt.
In Indianapolis, he had a spectacular rookie quarterback, the best prospect since Peyton Manning - who Arians also coached in his rookie season (spending 1998-2001 as the Colts quarterback coach). He had also coached Ben Roethlisberger in his rookie season and beyond, but Arizona had no such quarterback in place. Arians went after the aging veteran Carson Palmer, long since past his prime. He hired Todd Bowles, formerly with the Eagles, to be his defensive coordinator. He brought the Colts offensive line coach Harold Goodwin with him to be his offensive coordinator. And, Arians hired one of the greatest offensive minds in the game to be his assistant head coach and to help out the offense - Tom Moore. Moore doesn't have many connections to the current Colts team, but he certainly does to Colts fans and was one of the key pieces in the Peyton Manning era and a man whose legacy in Indianapolis should never be diminished. He was the driving force and the offensive coordinator behind Peyton Manning, and the two of them combined to create one of the best offenses in league history. Now in his 49th year in the league, Tom Moore will face his former team, on the staff with many other coaches who will as well.
The Cardinals weren't supposed to be very good this year. And they play in what was supposed to be the best division in the NFL, the NFC West, with the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, and St. Louis Rams. The Cardinals were supposed to finish last - just like the Colts last year. Ten games in, however, they are tied with the 49ers with a 6-4 record and are in hot pursuit of a playoff berth. They would be the first team out right now, but there is still a long way left to go. They still have a game against each of the Rams, 49ers, and Seahawks left, so they will have a chance to - unbelievably - play their way into a playoff spot. The Cardinals defense is one of the best in the NFL and their offense is coming along, held back by Carson Palmer's 15 interceptions but winning in spite of the picks. In fact, on their current three game winning streak, Palmer has completed 67.7% of his passes for 832 yards (8.95 yards per attempt), 6 touchdowns with only 2 picks. He is playing well, the Cardinals offense is playing well, and their defense has been playing well for much of the season.
The Colts aren't surprised at Arians' success in Arizona. We shouldn't be either. Said Pagano, when asked this week whether he was surprised:
"No. Just look what he did a year ago. So why would anybody be surprised?"
He later added that, "we all know he's a damn good football coach," before talking about how grateful he is for Arians:
"Like I said, you can't put a price tag on it. If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times, what he did for not only myself but more importantly, this organization, our players, our coaches, everything, and it was everybody had a hand in it, the players and the coaches and him leading the charge. Again, very, very grateful obviously."
As expected, Andrew Luck was also asked about Arians quite a bit this week:
Do you have any favorite quote from Bruce Arians?
"A favorite quote that sticks out? I probably can repeat that on camera (laughs). There were a lot of great things B.A. said, a lot of great things B.A. did. Not one really sticks out in my mind, but a lot of great memories of B.A."
Are you surprised Bruce Arians has had the success he's had?
"No, I don't think so. I think he's a winner. He's a winner. You could that playing for him here. I'm sure you could go back to his days at Pittsburgh, Cleveland, all the way down you find guys that I'm sure are not surprised. I'm so happy for him. Hopefully, he's on the losing end this weekend."
What about Bruce Arians made it so easy for him to step in for Chuck Pagano?
"That's a good question. One, nothing seems too daunting for him. His personality, everything seems to come easy to him. I think he's a natural coach. He builds great relationships with the players. I'm sure it was harder than it looked to step in and do what he did, but he made it look easy."
T.Y. Hilton was asked about it quite a bit also:
What did Bruce Arians do for you in your first year here?
"He's done a lot for me. My first OC (offensive coordinator), it was beautiful learning his offense. He taught me some things and it was great learning from him."
Are you excited to see him on Sunday?
"Oh yeah, I'll be excited to see him. I texted him this offseason, so it'll be good to see him again."
What was it about him that allowed him to come in here and have such success so quickly?
"The way he brought us in. He brought us in, we were able to learn from him right from the get-go. He coached us things, he taught us things and it was great learning from him."
What things about Bruce Arians' offense do you still incorporate in your game this year?
"I add a lot of things. B.A. taught me some things, Reggie (Wayne) taught me some things, so I just kind of mix it in and go from there."
On Sunday, the Colts will face the man that did so much for them last year that it's really hard to put it into words. He was so special and was exactly what the Colts needed in 2012. It was sad when he left, but we were all happy for him to finally get his chance to be a head coach too. He has made the most of it - not that anyone should be surprised. That's what he did last year when he got an opportunity, too. Arians is a class act and a great man in addition to a great football coach, and I am incredibly happy for him to be doing so well. He deserves it. The Colts will be trying to beat him on Sunday and he will be trying to beat the Colts, but the warm feelings should will continue - the Colts wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for Arians.
Coach of the year? It will be really tough this year, but Colts fans will remember him as such for the rest of their lives. He was a very special man who played such a key role for the team in a very special year.