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Cardinals Unexpectedly Face Bruce Arians Reunion In Tampa

Then-coach Bruce Arians hugs wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the visitors' locker room in Seattle following what turned out to be Arians' final game with the Cardinals before announcing his retirement.
Then-coach Bruce Arians hugs wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the visitors' locker room in Seattle following what turned out to be Arians' final game with the Cardinals before announcing his retirement.

A.Q. Shipley’s entire career before Bruce Arians retired from the Cardinals was playing for, in some shape or form, Bruce Arians.

But the center’s favorite moment came just as Arians was about to say goodbye, in the Cards’ season finale in Seattle in 2017.

“Everyone kind of assumed he was going to retire after that Seattle game and we went up to Seattle that week and we weren’t having a great year,” Shipley said. “We went out there and everyone kind of bonded together and went out and played our asses off and beat Seattle.”

The Seahawks’ victory was Arians’ last with the Cardinals – he told the team in the locker room after that he was done, although he managed to keep it a secret until the next day for a teary press conference.

Arians, who holds the Cardinals' franchise record for a coach with 50 wins, said Wednesday he “never expected” what comes Sunday, some 20 months later – he will coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Cardinals, even after that emotional retirement announcement.

Arians, asked in a conference call if he believed at that point in January of 2018 that he was done with coaching, didn’t hesitate.

“Totally,” he said, noting that he knew about three weeks prior to that finale in Seattle he'd be stepping away. “No doubt in my mind.”

What changed? Arians acknowledged that while his year in broadcasting was “OK,” he didn’t like the travel. But the coaching itch returned when Bucs GM Jason Licht, who Arians worked with in Arizona, called. Many of Arians’ preferred assistant coaches were available. He liked QB Jameis Winston.

“Everything kind of fell into place,” Arians said. “When my wife got excited about it, I got excited about it.”

The last point was important. Arians himself once wrote about his retirement, noting that if he had stayed in Arizona, his wife was going to move back to their forever home in Georgia, and Arians would have stayed in an apartment.

But he’s moved on, to a Bucs’ team that has competed but started 2-6. He’ll face a team that’s undergone many changes since he left. The Cardinals are on their second head coach, and have just 12 players on the 53-man roster that were here with Arians.

The Cardinals have not faced a former head coach as the head coach of an opponent in 36 years. Don Coryell, who coached the Cards from 1973-77, was head coach of San Diego Chargers on Nov. 20, 1983, when the Cardinals stomped the Chargers, 44-14, in St. Louis.

The Buccaneers only currently have four former Cardinals players on the roster, but including Arians, there are 13 on the coaching staff that once worked for the Cardinals. Harold Goodwin is the assistant head coach. Todd Bowles is defensive coordinator. Byron Leftwich is the offensive coordinator and playcaller.

“(Against) former teams, former coaches, I’m sure there is a little more added motivation, a little more juice,” Shipley said.

Meanwhile, the flood of memories from Arians’ five seasons remain for the players.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald noted the big wins and times the Cards had with Arians – a 17-10 upset win in Seattle in 2013, the 2015 playoff win over the Packers, the 9-1 start in 2014 despite Carson Palmer’s torn ACL.

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“The time we spent off the field, of course, speaking his mind, getting to know him as a man,” Fitzgerald added. “I really appreciated the knowledge he imparted on me. He helped me a great deal. He solidified my career on the back end. I will always be in debt to him.”

-- Arians told the story about Fitzgerald jumping on him at the end of his final game, injuring the coach to the point where Arians needed rotator cuff surgery. Arians joked to the media Fitz owed him a car. Arians said there was a Mercedes convertible in his driveway, with a big red bow attached, courtesy of the wide receiver.

“My wife named it Fitz,” Arians said.

-- Running back David Johnson recalled getting chewed out, talking about a Thursday night game against the 49ers in which he had 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but Arians wouldn’t give him a game ball because he had a fumble and a near-fumble.

“When I thought I did something well, had a good game, he was the one, ‘Well, you missed a couple blocks, you dropped a ball,’ ” Johnson said with a laugh. “That’s my memory of B.A. He’s never satisfied, and he’d let you know.”

-- Safety Budda Baker said because Arians wouldn’t allow music at practice, the players would try to sing a capella. And Baker definitely remembered Arians’ policy of stretching on your own.

“My rookie year, he was like, ‘If you are walking down the street and see a pit bull, are you gonna stretch first and then run, or just take off?’ ” Baker said. “We starting laughing. He said, ‘That’s why we don’t stretch.’ ”

Arians said he’d rather not play a game against friends, but added that Sunday will still be fun. His former players know how the Bucs will prepare, because they’ve been through it.

“He made us better, man,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “When you have a coach like that who knows how to push certain buttons and know how to get the best out of his players, you’ve got something special.”

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