Arians welcomes the pressure of the big game
TAMPA, Fla. -- What's up with the Steelers coaches? They come to the Super Bowl and turn into scholarly men? One day, Mike Tomlin is quoting Robert Frost. The next day, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is talking about some poet who shares his outlook on football and life.
" 'If you haven't gotten into the arena and tried because you're afraid, what's the sense of living?' " Arians quoted the man.
That sent me on a wild chase.
I must have spent five minutes Googling that yesterday and still couldn't find it.
But I did trip over this gem from an unidentified author. Surely, Arians can relate.
The galleries are full of critics. They play no ball, they fight no fights. They make no mistakes because they attempt nothing. Down in the arena are the doers. They make mistakes because they try many things. The man who makes no mistakes lacks bold.
Now that has Arians written all over it.
The man will be on the field tomorrow night at the Super Bowl -- in one of the world's biggest arenas -- trying to coax one more win out of the Steelers offense. Chances are he will make a mistake or two with his play-calling against an improved and aggressive Arizona Cardinals defense that has forced 12 turnovers and seven sacks in this postseason. What coordinator doesn't make a bad call? But even his many harsh critics must agree: He won't lack bold.
"Even when I play golf, if I have a choice between laying up and going for it, I'm going for it every time," Arians said.
This all came up because I asked Arians about the heat -- often misplaced -- that he took during the season when the offense struggled. It's simmering now that his guys look as if they might be peaking. Willie Parker has run for 100 yards in two of the past three games. The much-maligned offensive line hasn't just paved Parker's way, it's kept Ben Roethlisberger relatively clean. Roethlisberger didn't throw an interception in the two playoff games and had a 90.8 passer rating. Santonio Holmes has turned into a big-play machine. Hines Ward wants to show the world he can play on a bad knee ...
But the pot will boil again quickly if the Steelers lose to the Cardinals. The great defense won't be blamed unless it gives up five Larry Fitzgerald touchdowns. Roethlisberger won't be fingered unless he throws four picks. Parker won't take the fall unless he loses three fumbles.
I'm telling you everybody will blame Arians.
That would be especially ugly because of the Ken Whisenhunt factor. Whisenhunt, the Arizona head coach, was the Steelers' offensive coordinator before Arians and called a pretty sweet game when the team won Super Bowl XL.
Heaven help Arians if he's on the wrong end of the score tomorrow night with that guy.
"I could have stayed a quarterbacks coach or a wide receivers coach," he said, shrugging. "I could have stayed out of the limelight. But that's not me. I love the pressure. I love that bull's-eye on my back. I love having the responsibility in my hands."
People forget Arians was on the Super Bowl XL staff as Bill Cowher's receivers coach. "Whizzie was fantastic to work with," he said of Whisenhunt, who implemented many of the passing-game ideas Arians brought from the Cleveland Browns, where he was the coordinator.
"That's probably the strongest staff I've ever been on," Arians said. "Everyone checked their egos at the door and said, 'Let's get it done.' "
That's Arians' philosophy now. "I'm one of those coaches who likes to ask the guys what they like to do," he said. That's true with Roethlisberger, certainly. "He's said from day one, 'This is not my offense, Ben. It's yours,' " Roethlisberger said. But it's also true with a player such as backup running back Mewelde Moore, who had to step up as No. 1 when Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were hurt earlier in the season.
"Mo likes the field spread so that's what we tried to do," Arians said. "He did a real nice job for us."
That's what pleases Arians the most, that his offense hung in enough to make it to the Super Bowl despite losing Parker and Mendenhall, as well as tackle Marvel Smith and guard Kendall Simmons from a line that already had been rebuilt after guard Alan Faneca and center Sean Mahan left.
"I'm really excited for those guys up front, really proud of 'em." Arians said. "They've been overcriticized all season, but they've come on fantastically.
"It's funny, I was driving one day and I heard somebody on the radio say that [line coach] Larry Zierlein should be fired. I'm thinking, 'You gotta be kidding me. The guy should be coach of the year for the work he's done with those guys.' "
That's not likely to happen.
Nor will Arians get his due even if the Steelers ring up 40 on the Cardinals.
"You just can't change some people's minds even if you win a Super Bowl," he said, shrugging again.
Not that Arians cares much.
A second ring would be more than enough to stroke his ego.
"I want it for these players. It's all about those guys," Arians said.
"Coaching is like teaching. You want your students to do well. That's where your satisfaction comes from. You prepare them all week, then they have to take their test on Sunday in front of millions."
In the arena.
Where the doers are.
First Published January 31, 2009 12:00 am