Cook: Arians' stock soars with Indianapolis' turnaround
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In 10 months Bruce Arians has gone from being Steelers offensive coordinator to being fired and out of work to being retired to being Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator to being Colts interim head coach in place of leukemia-stricken Chuck Pagano to being at the center of the story of the year in the NFL to being, at 60, one of the league's hot new head coaching prospects.
I pause here to take a breath.
Actually, I'm going to hand the ball off to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has admired his good friend's brilliant work this season from afar.
"I think B.A. might just be creating some opportunities for himself. I don't know if he's interested at this point, but he's going to have them."
Arians laughed at the suggestion he will be fielding multiple job offers after the season.
"You better have a quarterback. If you don't, don't even bother calling," he said.
"I know how hard it is to win when you don't have one. If you've got one, I'll listen."
Arians quickly added he loves working for the Colts. "It would have to be a very special situation for me to go someplace else." But Arians also loves being a head coach. His previous experience was in an impossible situation at Temple, where his Owls went 21-45 from 1983-88. "It's been a blast," he said of his work with the Colts. "I'm enjoying the ride. It means so much to have this opportunity."
What Arians hates is how he got the Indianapolis job. Pagano, 52, the team's rookie head coach, was diagnosed with leukemia after the third game. The Colts were 1-2. They have gone 5-1 with a four-game winning streak under Arians and, at 6-3, would be a wild-card team with the Steelers if the season ended today. It's been a remarkable turnaround by a squad that went an NFL-worst 2-14 last season.
"It's funny, we had a chip on our shoulder coming in because no one gave us a chance," Arians said. "But we were playing just OK. Then, Chuck got sick and the guys found a purpose. They love him. It's a damn shame it took someone getting sick, but the guys have rallied around it."
The football world has rallied around Pagano. He made a surprise appearance in the Colts locker room Nov. 4 after their win against the Miami Dolphins and spoke of "seeing two more daughters getting married, dancing at their weddings and then hoisting that Lombardi several times." Check it out on YouTube if you didn't see the speech. It is worth your time, although it might make you cry.
Certainly, Arians had tears in his eyes. The moment was especially meaningful to him for a couple of reasons. One, Pagano reached out and hired him after the Steelers pushed him out after last season. And two, he is a cancer survivor, having beaten prostate cancer in 2007. He feels Pagano's pain. He knows the fear and worry that go with the horrible disease.
Doctors said last week that Pagano is cancer-free, although he's undergoing a second chemotherapy treatment and will have a third as a precaution.
"This second one is hitting him pretty hard, but he's going to get stronger," Arians said. "The goal is to have him back on the sideline for our final game [Dec. 30 against the Houston Texans]. We expect him to lead us out of the tunnel that day."
And if Pagano needs another week or two?
"We've just got to win enough games to extend the season," Arians said.
The Colts have the quarterback to do it. Arians compares rookie Andrew Luck favorably to Roethlisberger and to Peyton Manning, whom he had when he was the Colts quarterbacks coach from 1998-2000. Luck has been so good Colts fans don't miss Manning much now that he's with the Denver Broncos.
"He's got that same grit that those guys do, that 'We're going to win this game no matter what,' " Arians said of Luck. "He's always coming to me, 'Coach, give me more. Give me more information. What more can I do to help this team win?' ...
"He's got Ben's athleticism. He has an unbelievable arm. And, just like Ben, he can get outside the pocket and make plays on the move. He's always keeping his eyes downfield."
Luck is fortunate to have Arians as his coach. Roethlisberger will be the first to tell you that. "B.A. is an unbelievable coach," he often said.
Steelers president Art Rooney II terminated Arians over the wishes of coach Mike Tomlin, not to mention the wishes of Roethlisberger.
One theory had Rooney being afraid that Arians' pass-happy offense would shorten Roethlisberger's career because of the number of hits Roethlisberger took. Under new coordinator Todd Haley, Roethlisberger has been sacked just 18 times this season, although the 18th Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs left him with a serious shoulder/rib injury.
Another theory had Rooney being concerned about Arians' close relationship with Roethlisberger. Arians has said Roethlisberger is "like my second son."
Arians won't say much publicly about his exit from the Steelers but admitted, "I had gotten sour after what happened in Pittsburgh ... Coming here has rejuvenated me." As for his relationship with Roethlisberger, Arians was much more expansive. "If I'm not in Pittsburgh because I was too close to Ben Roethlisberger, I'm cool with that. I have the same relationship with Andrew. I had it with Peyton. There has to be that trust factor between a coach and his quarterback. It can't be a superficial relationship."
Arians and Roethlisberger talk on the telephone twice a week.
Roethlisberger has shared in Arians' joy and excitement. This week, after Roethlisberger was injured, Arians shared in his pain.
Arians doesn't think we've seen the last of Roethlisberger this season.
"He has a will to win that no one can match. He loves playing football."
Don't be surprised if Roethlisberger and the Steelers meet Arians and the Colts in the playoffs. Arians said he would love that.
"It would be cool, but you know what the people out here are talking about? They're talking about us playing Peyton. All I say is, 'I'll play anybody. Just get me there.' "
Then, in a much softer voice ...
"Just get Chuck there."
First Published November 16, 2012 12:00 am