Arians takes the long way back to Philly

ASSOCIATED PRESS Cardinals' Bruce Arians, who coached at Temple: 'It's always special to come back to this area where we had so much fun.'
ASSOCIATED PRESS Cardinals' Bruce Arians, who coached at Temple: 'It's always special to come back to this area where we had so much fun.'
Posted: December 01, 2013

THIRTY YEARS ago, a young and upcoming coach left his job as Alabama's running-backs coach to become the next football coach at Temple. After a long journey with a few speed bumps, Bruce Arians will return to the Philadelphia sideline tomorrow as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

After the Eagles parted ways with Andy Reid, Arians - who was coming off of an 11-5 season as the offensive coordinator/interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts - was a candidate for the vacant head-coaching position. Instead, the Eagles chose Chip Kelly, who, like Arians, has been known throughout his career as an offensive-minded coach.

"He's winning football games. That's what this deal is all about," Kelly said of Arians, 61, during his Tuesday news conference. "You know, you get judged by your win-loss record. He did a great job last year winning Coach of the Year when [Chuck] Pagano got sick and took over for the Colts and kept that ship going in the right direction. You could have gone two different ways in that situation, and he rallied the troops and kept them together, and you're starting to see the same thing in Arizona. They've got four straight wins and they're starting to play really, really good."

Following a playing career with Virginia Tech in the early 1970s, Arians broke into coaching as a graduate assistant with the Hokies from 1975-77. After coaching the running backs and wide receivers at Mississippi State and then the running backs at Alabama, Arians earned his first head-coaching opportunity with the Owls in 1983.

Arians had the tough task of replacing Wayne Hardin, who coached the Owls from 1970-1982 and compiled a record of 80-52-3 during his 12 seasons with Temple. Arians, then 31, replaced the retired Hardin and had some success, compiling three winning seasons, but was also remembered for the 1986 season in which the Owls were forced to forfeit their six wins for including an ineligible player on the roster.

After six seasons, Arians was relieved of his duties as Owls head coach, with 1 year left on a 3-year contract and owed slightly more than $100,000, after meetings with the university's executive vice president H. Patrick Swygert and president Peter J. Liacouras. Arians finished his tenure with Temple with a 21-39 record, saying he was dismissed simply because he did not win enough games.

"In no way was I prepared for this job when Temple gave it to me," Arians told Sports Illustrated after he was let go. "I don't know why they did, but I'm glad they did."

Once Arians left Philadelphia, he never thought he would have the opportunity to return, especially as an NFL head coach.

"I never thought it would happen," Arians said during a conference call on Wednesday. "It's always special to come back to this area where we had so much fun."

In 1989, Arians got his first taste of coaching in the NFL. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs as the running-backs coach before rejoining Mississippi State in 1993, this time as the offensive coordinator. After spending 1996 as the tight-ends coach for the New Orleans Saints, Arians returned to Alabama in 1997 as the team's offensive coordinator.

The next year, Arians made his first go-round in Indianapolis, where he was the quarterbacks coach for 3 years, including Peyton Manning's rookie season. From 2001-2003, he was Cleveland's offensive coordinator, before spending 2004-2011 with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator.

Last season, Arians spent his only season as the Colts' offensive coordinator, but it became a season much different from any of his others. After Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, Arians took over as interim head coach, helping the Colts earn a playoff berth with a 9-3 record. On Feb. 2, Arians was named Associated Press Coach of the Year, making him the first interim coach to win the award.

"I'm not a coach, but as of how he conducted the team, he did very well, and that was also because Chuck [Pagano] helped him on a lot of things, too," said Eagles defensive end Clifton Geathers, who played under Arians last season in Indianapolis. "He would call Chuck when he was in the hospital and Chuck would call every day, and they both worked together. I know the players really liked him in Indy, and I'm sure the players like him in Arizona now, too."

When Pagano returned to the sideline after his leukemia entered remission, Arians was a hot commodity for a few vacant NFL head-coaching positions. While some observers saw Arians as a potential fit for Philadelphia, the Eagles added Kelly, and the Cardinals agreed to make Arians their new head coach, with a 4-year contract, a day after Kelly signed with Philadelphia.

"They're going to love him, man," Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne told Indianapolis' WTHR-TV after Arians joined Arizona. "They're going to absolutely love him. He is what you want as a player to be the coach."

So far, the Cardinals have done just that - as Arians has led them to a 7-4 start. With four straight wins, Arians has helped a once-struggling offense average 23.1 points per game and make a tight NFC West race even more complicated.

One reason for his NFL success can be attributed to the modification of his coaching style since he was at Temple. After eight trips to the hospital for migraines and upset stomachs back then, Arians said he has changed.

"I learned to delegate," he said. "When I was at Temple, I was head coach, offensive coordinator, QB coach, recruiting coordinator. I thought I had to do everybody's job."

Since Arians shifted his NFL focus, the Eagles are a combined 1-3 against his teams, with their lone win coming in a 15-6 victory against Pittsburgh in 2008. The Eagles also have lost in three consecutive meetings with Arizona dating back to 2009, but Geathers insisted that losing tomorrow to his former coach is not an option.

"Any Sunday, you can lose to any team, but losing is not in our mindset and not in our vocabulary right now," Geathers said. "Any given Sunday, a team can play hard and win, and that's what we have been doing every single Sunday, putting our best foot forward and busting our [butt] day to day, week to week and game by game to win football games."

On Twitter: @JohnMurrow12

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