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With Many Cardinals Ties, Bruce Arians Plays For A Ring

Former Cards coach built staff with men who played same role in Arizona

Buccaneers (and former Cardinals) coach Bruce Arians (left) talks with Buccaneers (and former Cardinals) offensive coordinator Byon Leftwich during a Super Bowl practice this week.
Buccaneers (and former Cardinals) coach Bruce Arians (left) talks with Buccaneers (and former Cardinals) offensive coordinator Byon Leftwich during a Super Bowl practice this week.

Bruce Arians almost worked for the Cardinals before he worked for the Cardinals.

At one point, when Ken Whisenhunt was coach, Arians was someone Whisenhunt wanted on his staff in Arizona, although it didn't work out and Arians remained with the Steelers at the time. In those days, many referred to the Cardinals as "Steelers West" because of all those who came to the Cards with Steelers' ties.

Eventually, Arians was head coach of the Cardinals, replacing Whisenhunt. He retired, and then surprisingly came back to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who play the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday in Super Bowl 55. The Bucs, who besides being Tom Brady's team, might even be called "Cardinals East."

The vast majority of the Bucs' coaching staff worked with Arians with the Cardinals. There are a handful of ex-Cardinals players trying for a ring Sunday as well.

"When we all walked in the building (in Tampa), when we got the call from B.A., we all knew what to do," said assistant head coach Harold Goodwin, who had the same title under Arians with the Cardinals.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert and linebackers Kevin Minter and Deone Bucannon are on the roster. Center A.Q. Shipley and running back T.J. Logan are on injured reserve. Quarterback Drew Stanton, offensive linemen Earl Watford and Ted Larsen and punter Matt Wile are on the practice squad.

And the coaching list, of guys who worked for the Cardinals before the Bucs, is long:

  • Goodwin
  • OC Byron Leftwich
  • DC Todd Bowles
  • Offensive consultant Tom Moore
  • ILB coach Mike Caldwell
  • OLB coach Larry Foote
  • WR coach Kevin Garver
  • TE coach Rick Christophel
  • safeties coach Nick Rapone
  • DB coach Kevin Ross
  • strength coach Anthony Piroli
  • speed and conditioning coach Roger Kingdom
  • assistant to the head coach Mike Chiurco

"(Bruce) didn't have to set the expectations – the expectations were set years ago (in Arizona)," Goodwin said. "So it was a nice, relaxed atmosphere for us to do our job."

Of course, it wouldn't have happened if Arians had decided to un-retire, a move that even he acknowledged had been unlikely.

"I was not itching to get back into coaching," said Arians, who told his team in the celebratory locker room of an upset win in Seattle in the 2017 finale he was done. "This job just happened to have everything line up perfectly."

Buccaneers GM Jason Licht – who was Cardinals GM Steve Keim's right-hand man in Arizona before getting the job in Tampa – is a "great friend," Arians said, and so when he called Arians, it piqued his interest.

But even then, Arians admitted, he wouldn't have taken the job "if some of those assistants had not been available."

Arians has mentioned both Goodwin and Leftwich by name in that regard. Leftwich, who ended up as the offensive coordinator under Arians replacement Steve Wilks in 2018, might have been unavailable if Wilks had stayed. Instead, he ended up being the chosen one by Arians to finally take over playcalling duties for Arians – the ones he once said he'd likely never relinquish.

But a smile creeps over Arians' face when asked about his time in Arizona, and what those six years meant to him.

"So many relationships," Arians said. "Great organization. I love all the time I had there. I just wish I had stayed a little healthier. And I wish I had learned how to delegate maybe a little sooner.

"Michael (Bidwill) and Steve and Carson (Palmer) and Larry (Fitzgerald) and Pat (Peterson), the relationships we built with everyone. The media, everybody. Just fond, fond memories. The fans were fantastic, they were always supporting our foundation. I can't thank them enough for that."

His health was a problem by the time he walked away to live in his Georgia "forever home" with his wife, Christine. He battled kidney cancer and diverticulitis, which sidelined him for a shared practice with the Chargers in San Diego in 2016.

Now he's hoping his current team, with its many Cardinals roots, can finish off a Super Bowl run he had once hoped for during the "All or Nothing" season of 2015.

"As far as goals go, we have one," Arians told his Cardinals players in that summer of 2015, in a speech he could've recycled to his current Bucs. "A Super Bowl ring. Not a Super Bowl. A Super Bowl ring."

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