Cardinals coach Bruce Arians (left), in 2011 as Steelers offensive coordinator, next to coach Mike Tomlin.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Bruce Arians isn't going to go there now.
His history with the Steelers is just that – history. He's been back to Pittsburgh since the surprising end to his tenure with the team following the 2011 season, albeit a preseason game with the Colts the following year. He became, improbably, a head coach in Arizona, and so far has won 25 of 37 games.
"I've been in both sides of that locker room," Arians said Wednesday. "I went back the year after I left for a preseason game. So yeah, it's just another game on the schedule."
Perhaps that's possible. That doesn't mean he'll convince everyone.
"Knowing him, and how competitive he is, I'm sure he is going to want to come in here and put on a show, seeing how
many people counted him out and wanted him out of here," Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said.
Arians has many times talked about not being retired but "re-fired" by the Steelers. His contract had run out and it was not renewed. The Steelers announced he was retiring. At that point, Arians thought he probably was headed that way, even if he didn't want to be.
"I wasn't certain of (Arians retiring)," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "I knew it was a possibility, but I wasn't certain of that."
Chuck Pagano was hired as the Colts' new head coach, and called Arians to ask him to be the Indianapolis offensive coordinator. When Pagano was diagnosed with cancer, Arians was asked to step in as interim head coach, and did so well in 12 games he was named NFL coach of the year – and he subsequently was hired by the Cardinals.
In truth, that more than anything likely helped sooth any hurt that may still remain.
"I wake up every day and thank Mr. (Art) Rooney for making that change, because these three years would have never happened," Arians said in late July. "I wake up every day and thank God that Chuck is healthy. Those things led to this."
Carson Palmer said there is probably "a little extra" going against a former team, something Palmer understands
himself. But the quarterback also believes Arians is focused on the current Cardinals and the chance to go 5-1. The Steelers are not only 3-2, but the Cardinals want to continue the road momentum they have built.
That little extra isn't going anywhere, though.
"If you take it from a player's perspective, think about a team that cut you, that got rid of you, it's going to be something when you go back to that team," said new Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney, who played for the Colts when Arians first arrived post-Steelers. "Just a little bit. You may not admit it, but there's something in there somewhere deep, where you're like, 'I've got to get these guys.' He may never admit it, but I do feel like there is a little something there."
Said Cardinals president Michael Bidwill on Arizona Sports 98.7, "He wants to make a statement."
The man who replaced Arians as Pittsburgh offensive coordinator is coincidentally a former Cardinals coach: Todd Haley.
Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin spent five years coaching with Arians in Pittsburgh, also leaving after the 2011 season. The trip back to Pittsburgh is about seeing old friends, and playing a game, Goodwin said. It's the same for Arians.
Arians had been in Pittsburgh eight seasons, and had grown close to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger, who isn't expected to play because of a knee injury, said Arians has done "some pretty good stuff" since leaving the Steelers.
Besides, Tomlin noted, "He's been gone for a long time in football terms."
"I think (Arians) has moved past it," Goodwin said. "It's been awhile. In his mind, it is what it is. He's got his own team now, so it's worked out for the better. Otherwise he'd probably still be there."
Images from the Cardinals' Wednesday practice in West Virginia