Like him or not, Steelers' Arians gets the job done

Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has two Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh and is looking to add a third.
Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has two Super Bowl rings with Pittsburgh and is looking to add a third.
Posted: February 02, 2011

DALLAS - Bruce Arians is so, uh, popular in Pittsburgh that Steelers fans have a website dedicated to him.

It's called

Eagles fans have pretty much become numb to the pass-happy ways of Andrew Walter Reid. Oh, there will be the occasional talk-show rant after Eagles running backs get just 13 carries in a five-point playoff loss, which was the case last month against the Packers. But for the most part, you have learned to grin and bear it.

In 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Pittsburgh, though, where they still genuflect at the mention of Franco Harris, they are not nearly as tolerant of coaches who like to utilize this strange weapon called the forward pass.

"Everybody else throws the ball in the other 31 [NFL] cities, But here, they don't feel we run it enough," said Arians, the Steelers' oft-criticized offensive coordinator.

In most cities, Arians hardly would be considered a passing zealot. I mean, the Steelers threw the ball just eight more times than they ran it this season. They were as balanced an offense as there was in the league.

But Steelers fans haven't quite forgiven Arians for last season, when his unit attempted a scandalous 536 passes to just 428 runs in a 9-7 playoff-less finish.

"No one sits at home and calls defenses," Arians said. "They know it's 50-50 run or pass. You're always going to be 50 percent wrong no matter what you pick.

"I enjoy listening to the talk shows. I'll listen to them and say, 'Wow, we really did have a run called. Ben [Roethlisberger] just threw the damn thing.' "

In a city as passionate about its football as Pittsburgh, Arians said he gets plenty of letters and e-mails suggesting how he could do a better job.

"I read most of them," he said. "Unless they start off with, 'You a-hole.' [The criticism] doesn't bother me. If you let that stuff bother you, you won't last in this business very long. It'll eat you up."

Arians has something else that helps him deal with second-guessing Steelers fans: a pair of Super Bowl rings. He earned the first one in '05 as the Steelers' wide receivers coach. Earned the second one 2 years ago in his second year as the team's offensive coordinator.

The 58-year-old Arians is dearly hoping to add a third ring Sunday when the Steelers take on the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Not bad for a guy who got fired as Temple's head coach 22 years ago.

"That's what makes you enjoy this week so much," he said. "All those times of getting your ass kicked. There have been a lot of ups and downs. More downs."

After Temple let him go, Arians would make six more coaching stops before landing in Pittsburgh in '04 with Bill Cowher. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in '07 after Mike Tomlin replaced Cowher.

"It's been fabulous," Arians said of working for Tomlin. "You can't put into words what he brings to a football team. Intelligence, character, leadership. All the things you want in your head coach. And an uncanny rapport with his players because he's basically their age.

"He doesn't waver in what he believes in, and that's all you can ask for as an assistant coach. A guy that's got a path and he ain't getting off that path."

The Steelers primarily were a run-oriented offense under the previous offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, who left after the '06 season to become the head coach in Arizona.

Arians followed suit in his first year at the helm of the offense. In '07, the Steelers finished third in the league in rushing as Willie Parker collected 1,316 yards on 321 workhorse carries.

But after going one-and-done in the playoffs that year, Arians got Tomlin's blessing to open things up and give more freedom to Roethlisberger. Steelers fans were happy with the final result - a second Lombardi Trophy in 4 years. But those 506 pass attempts and just 460 rushing attempts left them feeling a little queasy.

At the end of last season, there was an erroneous report that Arians had been fired. Even as Tomlin was vehemently denying it, was putting together a list of replacement candidates.

"We had just had the most prolific offensive season in Steelers history," Arians said. "A 4,000-yard passer [Roethlisberger]. A 1,000-yard rusher [Rashard Mendenhall] who only [started] 12 games. Two 1,000-yard receivers [Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes].

"One young guy in town just decided to report that I was fired. He had no basis for it other than he thought he had a good clue from somebody. And everybody else ran with it.

"I was downstairs [at the Steelers' training facility] working out when it happened. I don't let that stuff bother me. And even if it had been [true], I would've just gotten another job. It's happened before."

His critics no doubt would have been calling for his head 2 weeks ago if Roethlisberger hadn't completed that third-and-6 pass to rookie Antonio Brown with less than 2 minutes left in the Steelers' 24-19 win over the Jets in the AFC Championship Game.

Everybody, including Jets coach Rex Ryan, didn't think Arians would be crazy enough to throw the ball and risk stopping the clock or worse, an interception, with so little time left. But he was crazy. Crazy like a fox.

"[Running in that situation] is playing to lose," Arians said. "We've got a head coach, when I look him in the eye and say, 'Coach, what do you want to do?' he says play to win. That means throwing it.

"You make a first down because you trust your quarterback. Without that trust, you run-run-punt and let the defense go win the game. That's not our job. Our job is to put the game on ice and kneel down at the end. If you trust your quarterback, it's easy to call those plays.

"If it hadn't worked, they'd have been calling me an idiot. But you gotta play to win, man. You can't play scared. Play smart, but not scared."

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