Early last season with the Indianapolis Colts, after too many days when the defensive backs were owning his offensive players, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wanted to revel in the one good day for his unit.
So Arians walked out to practice the next day sporting black socks, black shoes, black shorts. A player asked if he had decided to go old school that day.
“No, no, no,” Arians said. “I went to a funeral today – because we killed all the DBs yesterday.”
The trash talk drew laughs that day from the Colts, and again Friday, as Arians relayed it after being formally introduced as the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The personality of the 60-year-old Arians was on display throughout the session. He choked up when thanking his family and praising his wife for enduring yet another move – No. 15 overall – for his coaching career. He showed his humor as he joked about his brief retirement last January before realizing he was a “lifer” of a coach. He showed his passion as he talked about battling in the now dautning NFC West, and his determination as he deftly handled questions about outgoing defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Arians may have been the last coaching candidate the Cardinals spoke to, but he was always going to be part of the search, team president Michael Bidwill said, and in the end, the Cardinals felt they saved the best for last.
“His personality, his energy, I think it was something we felt comfortable with right off the bat,” general manager Steve Keim said.
The rest of the coaching staff is expected to come together soon. Horton was allowed to leave with one year left on his contract, and he quickly moved to be the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns – another of the teams he had interviewed for its head coaching job. Arians said he hoped to have his staff hired by Sunday.
He’s expected to retain tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens – who was quarterback at the University of Alabama in 1997 when Arians was the Tide’s offensive coordinator – in some capacity. There have been multiple reports Todd Bowles, currently with the Eagles, will replace Horton.
Arians also outlined a pretty specific philosophy:
-- He will hire an offensive coordinator, but will call the plays himself. Ken Whisenhunt followed the same pattern when he first arrived in Arizona.
-- The defense will be aggressive and attacking. “We won’t be sitting back,” Arians said. As for a scheme of a 4-3 or 3-4 look, Arians refused to be pigeon-holed, saying the Cards will use multiple looks.
-- Situation football is crucial to him, specifically how his team performs on third downs, in the red zone and in two-minute situations. “We’ll practice more (in those situations) than anyone in the league because that’s where games are won and lost,” Arians said.
“Anybody can play between the 20s,” he added.
-- Offensively, Arians said he always has six deep plays available every game and it’s important to use them. A running game is important and will happen, and he pointed to successes the Steelers and Colts had in that area. But he also made it clear the number of runs aren’t as important as what a team does with them.
“Possession time doesn’t mean crap,” Arians said. “Production time. We’re looking for a point a minute.”
It’s that kind of mindset the Cardinals embraced, especially after a 5-11 season and a nine-game losing streak.
“He’s 60 going on 35,” Bidwill said. “He’s got a lot of energy.”
Keim talked about getting in a video room with Arians and hearing the passion, seeing the ability to create mismatches in schemes, detail when it comes to Arians’ beloved situational football. Keim will have to get Arians some different players too, to make that all work.
Arians reiterated the search for a quarterback will be ongoing. He has looked at video of
Arians did stress the need for good players, because that is the crux of a winning team.
“It’s not my football team,” Arians said. “Our players will decide how good they are. It’s their football team. If they want to win, we’ll win. I’ll show them the way. I’m no magic man.”
There is no magic with the Cards’ new head coach, but there is enthusiasm. That’s natural on the first day for a brand-new coach and not exactly out of the ordinary, but Arians – going with a golf analogy -- insisted it’s how he lives his life.
“I don’t mind showing emotion,” Arians said. “I see it as a strength, not weakness. The way I approach every day, I live as hard and as fast as I can. I never lay up. I hit a lot of balls in the water. That’s the way I coach, and that’s the way I live. I don’t know if there is another one coming, and I don’t want to go to bed tonight thinking I missed something or didn’t take a chance on getting a great shot.”