Arians says Kelly's attack is 'a great college offense'

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the former coach at Temple, says the read-option is a great college offense that doesn't work well in the NFL.
Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the former coach at Temple, says the read-option is a great college offense that doesn't work well in the NFL. (PHELAN M. EBENHACK / AP)
Posted: November 29, 2013

Bruce Arians is as old-school as Stetson hats and Remington typewriters and a Rusty Nail on the rocks. In his world, the song always sounds better on vinyl, no 21st-century sitcom comes close to being as funny as The Andy Griffith Show, and quarterbacks ought to stay in the pocket and out of harm's way.

Arians is 61 years old. It has been 25 years since Temple fired him after his six seasons there as head coach, more than 30 years since he was Alabama's running backs coach for two seasons under Bear Bryant.

He won two Super Bowls and went to a third as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he was the Associated Press' NFL coach of the year last year as an interim, filling in for the cancer-stricken Chuck Pagano and guiding the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs. He has coached Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. He is coaching Carson Palmer. He has done and seen some stuff.

Now Arians is the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, whom the Eagles play Sunday, and he made it clear Wednesday that the read-option - the fulcrum of Chip Kelly's offensive system - does nothing for him. During a conference call, Arians was asked about those quarterbacks, such as the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, who either had been injured while running the read-option or haven't been as productive this season as they'd been last season. Was he surprised these quarterbacks had regressed?

He was not.

"I still think it's a great offense. It's a great college offense when you put a great athlete back there," Arians said. "But when you're facing great athletes, with the speed that's in the NFL who are chasing these guys, unless you're superhuman, you're going to get hurt sooner or later - not hurt, but beat up and bruised up, and you don't want your quarterback feeling bruised up when he's trying to throw and be accurate."

Kelly was not available Wednesday to respond, but make no mistake: With those words, Arians turned Sunday's game into more than an important matchup between two teams with NFC playoff aspirations.

There was already an interesting subplot here; the Cardinals hired Arians in mid-January after the Eagles, he said, declined to interview him. But this is a clash of NFL cultures now: Kelly's newfangled offense, with its exotic alignments and schemes, against the timeless assets that Arians has at his disposal - a big quarterback with a big arm in Palmer, tall and talented wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, and the willingness to dare defenses to stop them.

But the contrast between the two goes even deeper. Kelly had the Bar-Kays' "Too Hot to Stop" and Van Halen's "Panama" blaring from giant speakers at practice Tuesday, and he still gets sideways glances from those who are cynical about his appreciation for sports science, the cheery backslapping and hand-pumping that punctuates most of his interactions with his players, and his belief that a coach doesn't have to work 20 hours a day to do his job well.

Arians has a different style, to say the least. At Temple, he had four roles: head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, recruiting coordinator. He ended up in the hospital eight times over those six years, he said, because of migraines and stomach problems. "I was only 36," he said. "I felt like I was 80."

Over time, he said, he learned to delegate more, but he admitted he still coaches with a jagged edge, always mindful of a saying Bryant passed on to him: Coach 'em hard, and hug 'em later.

"I've lived by that," he said. "I think anybody who's ever played for me, they get coached extremely hard, but they know I care about them. That's just football coaching."

However antiquated his methods might seem, it's hard to argue that they don't work. The Colts went 11-5 under him last year, and the Cardinals - who have three winning seasons since 1985 - are 7-4 this year.

Arians waited a long time to become an NFL head coach, and just like Kelly, he is doing the job the only way he knows how to do it, and this should be fun Sunday. Innovation vs. tradition. Bold and different vs. tried and true. These two franchises made their choices, and yes, this will be something to see.


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