Arians not retiring type now
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Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians spent the Steelers' off weekend at his Reynolds Plantation home in Greensboro, Ga., a spectacular golfing community on Lake Oconee, about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta. At this time a year ago, he couldn't wait to retire and move there full time. In fact, after the 2010 season, he told coach Mike Tomlin he was done after 36 years in coaching. Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger quickly and quietly talked him out of quitting.
"We'll see how it goes the rest of the season, but it's looking like I'll try coaching again next year," Arians said Sunday. "These young guys have made it so much fun for me."
So have a 7-3 record and a share of first place in the AFC North Division.
Arians' offense has much to do with it. Roethlisberger is playing the best football of his career. The offensive line has stabilized after a terrible start; its five members will make their fifth consecutive start together Sunday night when the Steelers play at Kansas City. Young wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are turning into stars. Tight end Heath Miller remains -- in Arians' words -- "the quarterback's security blanket." Rashard Mendenhall and Ike Redman are solid backs even if their numbers don't blow anyone away.
This is what Arians had in his mind for the offense all along. After the Steelers lost Oct. 2 in Houston, 17-10, in a game when Roethlisberger was sacked five times, Arians predicted his guys would regroup and be formidable. "We still can be the offense that we expect to be," he insisted.
Sunday, Arians added, "I always knew it was there. It was just a matter of keeping the faith."
Since that loss in Houston, the Steelers have gone 5-1. Other than a poor second half in a 17-13 win against Jacksonville Oct. 16, the offense has been largely outstanding. Arians has done a great job mixing things up. He has called running plays out of three-wide receiver sets and passing plays out of three-tight end sets. He has thrown to kill the clock at the end of games rather than running the ball, so great is his faith in Roethlisberger.
"There's never a doubt when I call a play that it will be successful," Arians said. "It's just a matter of us executing against the defense."
It doesn't hurt having a franchise quarterback, one of the NFL's best. In the past six games, Roethlisberger has thrown for 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He threw for 300 yards three times.
"It's his team," Arians said of Roethlisberger. "He has such a grasp of what we're doing. And he has a great rapport with the young guys."
Wallace and Brown.
"Wow! They're so talented and they really want to be good," Arians said. "Everyone knows who Mike Wallace is. But he's no longer just a deep guy. He's expanded his game. He's catching short balls and doing a lot of damage ...
"Antonio is having a fabulous season."
The two have been so good that future Hall of Famer Hines Ward has lost his starting job. Actually, Ward has fallen to No. 4 among the wide receivers, also behind Jerricho Cotchery, "a great get for us" as a free agent, Arians said. "But I wouldn't write off Hines just yet. He's still going to make some big plays for us."
The line jelled when the Steelers brought back offensive tackle Max Starks as a free agent after the Houston game. Roethlisberger, sacked 14 times in the first four games, has been given better protection despite being sacked 17 times in the past six games.
"Max and Marcus Gilbert are giving us the best tackle play we've had since I've been here," Arians said.
All of it has re-energized Arians. Last season, Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games. Injuries ravaged the offensive line. The Steelers had two new offensive coaches -- line coach Sean Kugler and wide receivers coach Scottie Reynolds. "It was a mental grind for me," Arians said.
Tomlin told Arians to re-think his retirement decision. Roethlisberger, who also owns a home in Reynolds Plantation and lives just around the corner, came to Georgia and told Arians he couldn't bail out on the team after it lost in Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers.
"Ben kept talking about the potential of this offense with the young guys," Arians said. "What he said to me was huge."
Arians is thrilled to be back even though much work is ahead in the final six regular-season games.
"We're running the ball OK, but it's time to run it better," he said. "Not necessarily more, but better. That's something we talked about all last week."
Going into Sunday, the Steelers ranked 17th in the NFL with 109.8 rushing yards per game.
Arians said he loves the team's chances of reaching a fourth Super Bowl in seven seasons even if it has to get there as a wild card. The Baltimore Ravens, after beating the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, still control the AFC North because of their two wins against the Steelers.
"I think our team is better than it was when we won Super Bowl XL [as a wild card]," Arians said. "Our defense is just as good, and it's going to get better when guys get healthy. Offensively back then, we really only could run the ball. Ben was solid, but we had to use a lot of gimmick plays. We didn't have the depth at wide receiver that we do now.
"This team is capable of going on the road and beating you in a lot of different ways. If we have to be road warriors again, we can do it. I have no doubt about that"
To say this has been a satisfying start to the season for Arians would be an understatement. No longer is he the subject of vitriol on the talk shows. No longer is he -- in his words -- "the village idiot." Most of Steelers Nation seems pleased with what the offense is doing.
Of course, that's always subject to change. And quickly.
"Oh, I know that," Arians said, a chuckle in his voice. "I understand how that goes. But I've never backed away from it. I love having that bull's eye on my back."
Arians mentioned one of his favorite poems -- "If" by Rudyard Kipling. The way he interprets it, Kipling wrote about how stepping into the arena and trying is so much more rewarding than sitting back and just watching.
"I love being in the arena."
That's really the reason Arians is planning on coming back next season.
Competing in the NFL is intoxicating.
Golf, for him, just can't compare.
First Published November 21, 2011 12:00 am