Big Blue United

Bruce Arians: On Bear Bryant, Love of the Long Ball, and Why the Game Should Survive

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It’s been a heck of a run, and a heck of a football life, for Bruce Arians, who retired last week as Arizona Cardinals coach. In order, Arians was the starting quarterback at Virginia Tech, running for more touchdowns in a season than Michael Vick ever did later for the Hokies; coached under Bear Bryant in Bryant’s last season at Alabama; served as head coach at Temple; was Peyton Manning’s first NFL quarterback coach in 1998; served as offensive coordinator of the Browns and Steelers and Colts (and coached Tim Couch, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck along the way); took over as Colts coach when Chuck Pagano was sidelined with leukemia in 2012, became the only interim coach in NFL history to be named coach of the year after going 9-3 that season; and, at 60, finally got his shot to be an NFL head coach—with Arizona, where he served five seasons and built the NFL’s number one offense in 2015.

Arians coached football for 43 years, in 11 places, from Blacksburg to Starkville to Tuscaloosa to Philadelphia to Kansas City, back to Starkville, to New Orleans, back to Tuscaloosa, to Indianapolis to Cleveland to Pittsburgh, back to Indianapolis, and finally to Arizona.

He did it his way—as a cantankerous, anti-West Coast offense, pro-bombs-away coach who hated much of the current horizontal passing game but loved the lessons that football could teach and fought those who sought to divert youth from playing the game. 

When I reached out to him on the night of his last football game, Dec. 31 in Seattle, trying to find out if this was the end for him, Arians uncharacteristically ignored a text message. The next morning, early, he sent this text:

“Sorry Pete I looked at 65 messages on my phone and turned it off and started drinking. Happy new year”

This week, without an offseason to organize, Arians went golfing. Four times. And he talked about football.

Getty Images

The MMQB: Couldn’t help but think, watching how the college football season ended with the young Alabama quarterback throwing a bomb to win the game in overtime, that you were looking on and cheering—not just because it was Alabama, but because of the bomb to win.

Arians: Yeah. What a great play, looking off the Cover-2 safety to get the receiver as open as he was. Great poise, and a hell of a throw for a freshman.

The MMQB: You were able to build a pretty insulated, tight culture with the Cardinals, where inside stuff was kept inside the team. That showed after your last game. You told your team in the locker room after the game that you were done, and no one blabbed. They let you make the announcement your way the next day.

Arians: We put something on our shirts, given to the players, that we live by: Trust, loyalty, respect. Everything that happens in our locker room is amongst us. No

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