Bruce Arians has been knocking around the league for 32 years, but was never truly sought after until he was named interim head coach for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with Leukemia. The team was 2-2 when he took over and he helped lead them and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to a 11-5 record. Finally, at the age of 61, Arians got his shot with the Arizona Cardinals.
Arians has notably pushed hard for helping minorities and women build experience and move up the ranks. He has built out a diverse coaching staff in large part because his own long road showed him the difficulty anybody can have without the right break.
It hasn’t always been easy for Arians to keep a job, but he’s done well wherever he’s coached. We take a look at his coaching career and his journey to Super Bowl LV.
Early coaching career
Arians started his career where he played, at Virginia Tech as a graduate assistant in 1975. He quickly moved up the college ranks as a position coach at Mississippi State and Alabama before landing a head coaching job with Temple. His first foray into the NFL was with the team he’ll face this Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was running backs coach from 1989-92. He jumped back and forth from the NFL to college a few times before he finally settled in the NFL in 1998 as the Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks coach in 1998, when Peyton Manning came into the league.
Arians was becoming known for his ability to mold quarterbacks and Manning, of course, was a big boost to the resume. He spent three years with Manning and then hooked up with Ben Roethlisberger in 2007, helping turn him into a much better player when he was the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Next on the quarterback carousel was Andrew Luck, who Arians was with in his rookie season in 2012, when he was offensive coordinator/interim head coach. Luck ended up having one of the best rookie campaigns of all time and Arians won Coach of the Year, becoming the first interim coach to ever do so. That led Arians to Arizona where he got his first chance to be the permanent head coach with the Cardinals in 2013. There, he helped bring Carson Palmer back from his post-knee injury decline into real prominence once again and was named Coach of the Year in 2014, his second time winning the award in three seasons and with two teams.
No risk it no biscuit
Arians retired from the game in 2017 after his fifth season with the Arizona, but was enticed back into the game as he signed a 4-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arians style of coaching is all about the deep pass. His mantra is “no risk it no biscuit.” That philosophy came to a head in Tampa Bay with Jameis Winston at the helm in Arians first season with the Bucs. Winston’s trouble with turnovers was exacerbated by Arians risky offensive philosophy and led to Winston throwing a record number of interceptions.
Arians knew that Winston wouldn’t work in his offensive scheme with the number of mistakes he made, so he must have been pleased when future Hall of Famer Tom Brady became available — even if 2020 would be his 21st season in the league. But, living up to his mantra, Arians and the Bucs went after Brady and landed him. “You can’t hit a home run if you don’t swing for one,” Arians said, per Rick Stroud. “That’s how you live life. Are you going to sit in a closet or have some damn fun?”
Super Bowl LV bound
The 2020 season for Tampa Bay has been anything but normal, as they added one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. That led to Brady trespassing on a couple occasions as he tried to move and get work with his receivers when all offseason workouts had been canceled.
The lack of work and some disconnect in offensive philosophy from Brady’s 20 years with Bill Belichick slowed the Buccaneers offense down, but there were plenty of times where you could see the big play upside. Marrying Arians’ offense with Brady’s affinity to throw check downs took a while, but they finally found that right balance, as they won their final four games with a combined score of 148 to 85.
Arians went 21-39 in the college ranks, but his philosophy was always more suited for the NFL, which is very much a quarterbacks league. In the NFL, he has gone 80-49-1 for a strong .619 winning percentage and is 4-2 in the postseason. His counterpart, Andy Reid, is 238-144-1 for a .623 winning percentage. But, the league officially gave Chuck Pagano Arians’ 8-3 record as interim coach in 2012. If we slide those over to Arians, his winning percentage pops up to .631. There is little doubt that Arians can win football games.
Super Bowl LV
This will be Arians first Super Bowl as a head coach at 68 years of age. He does have two Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he can help his team to a title, he would become the oldest head coach to ever win a Super Bowl. Bill Belichick currently holds that record when the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
A win would likely give Arians a Hall of Fame worthy resume after also winning two Coach of the Year awards. The Kangol wearing bust would be a nice addition to the hallowed halls of Canton.