In 2012, after being told by Mike Tomlin that the Steelers were not going to re-sign him as their offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians and his wife Christine were on their way to their "forever home" in Georgia when Chuck Pagano called to offer BA the offensive coordinator position with the Colts.
Here Arians was---feeling utterly scorned by the organization with whom he had just spent 8 years (5 as OC) and had helped to win Super Bowl XLIII---here he was figuring his coaching career was now in the rear view mirror---yet, little did he know that with one phone call---his career would take on a dimension that he had once only dreamed about.
Arians not only did a masterful job in his one year with the Colts taking over an interim HC while Chuck Pagano was in the hospital fighting for his life---Arians was as loyal as a friend could be to Pagano. He kept a light on all day and all night in Pagano's office and said that no one would turn that light off until Pagano had beaten leukemia and was able to resume his job as HC.
Whenever BA is asked about what the greatest highlight was about leading the Colts to a 9-2 record and a surprise playoff berth as the interim coach, Arians always maintains with great poignancy and sincerity, that without a doubt, it was sitting in the parking lot on Christmas Eve and watching his dear friend Chuck Pagano turn off the light in his office.
Ironically, BA was the one who was ill during the Colts' playoff loss, as he was in the hospital suffering from a gastro-intestinal issue.
Then came the call from Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals. Within ten minutes of BA's dinner with Bidwill and Keim, BA was blowing them away with his stories, salty tongue and "cool uncle" swag.
BA was hired to replace Ken Whisenhunt on the heels of a miserable 5-11 season.
The Cardinals' players immediately took to BA, his Bear Bryant-esque "coach you up hard and then hug you later" style, his Kangol caps and his "cool uncle" bravado. Most evidently, the players bought into his "All or Nothing" mantra. Few coaches in Arizona ever talked with so much conviction about winning a Super Bowl the way Arians did. After all, Arians could show them the two rings he earned while with the Steelers.
As we know, Bruce Arians re-taught the Arizona Cardinals how to win with his all-out "no risk-it, no biscuit" approach on offense and his "send the house" blitz commands to his hand-picked defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles. Suddenly the Cardinals were winning games they were typically losing in the past. They were playing at times with reckless abandon. In his first three years, Arians won another NFL Coach of the Year award and his teams won 10, 11, and 14 games respectively.
The Arizona Cardinals' fans have never seen a three-year run of double digit wins before. Nor have they ever heard the Cardinals being mentioned so often as Super Bowl contenders. Amazon even hopped on the bandwagon and followed the team around each day with cameras and microphones in filming their 2015 series "All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals."
Whether it was as a result of Arians' ultra-high-risk style or not, each of the Cardinals' double digit win seasons was marred by devastating injuries. First the first ACL tear that Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu suffered during a rare return of a safety punt late in the 2013 season. In 2014, QB Carson Palmer, now playing once again at the top of his game, suffered a non-contact ACL tear which ultimately led to the Cardinals losing in the first round of the playoffs to Carolina with Ryan Lindley at QB. In 2015, at the tail end of a remarkable 9 game winning streak, the Honey Badger, back to his normal havoc-wreaking style of play, suffered his 2nd ACL tear---which ultimately led to a Week 17 36-6 trouncing at home by the Seahawks, a thrilling 26-20 overtime win over the Packers, and a 49-15 dismantling by the Panthers in the NFC Championship game.
Much of what transpired during the Cardinals exhilarating 14-4 2015 season was captured for eternity on film by the Amazon crew. And at the center of it all was Bruce Arians---a highly compelling alpha dog head honcho---who had gotten thrown off his high school football team for drinking---who was a dual threat QB at Virginia Tech---who became one of the youngest head coaches in college football at Temple before suffering debilitating health issues---who had the remarkable fortune as an assistant coach in the NFL to mentor Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck---who was deeply hurt by his dismissal from the Steelers--- who turned the car around against his wife's better judgement when Chuck Pagano called--- who kept the light on for Chuck while he was fighting off leukemia---who wowed Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim---who won consecutive NFL Coach of the Year awards like some sort of coaching Lazurus---who keeps a portrait of his idol and mentor Bear Bryant on the wall behind his desk in the Cardinals' headquarters---who regales his players with copious stories of old and songs like "I'm Gonna Whip Somebody's Ass"---who, win or lose, hosts a "Win or Lose, We Booze" post-game tailgate at U of P Stadium, etc.
Arians was the star of the show. He was always the alpha in the room---and often he was thoroughly endearing, refreshingly candid and highly amusing.
So what has happened to Arians and his once high-flying Cardinals the past two years?
Again the Cardinals continue to be ravaged by injuries to key players---only, now, they are losing games they used to win. Top draft picks have been slow to contribute, and/or oft injured---and Arians' special teams are failing him and the squad time and time again.
If an analogy from Greek mythology can be drawn to Bruce Arians---Bruce Arians is a modern day Odysseus.
Odysseus was such a brave leader, his men idolized him and feared him all at the same time. They idolized him for his charisma, experience and knowledge. Yet, they feared him because he kept putting them in harm's way---now, there's a double entendre at work here---on the one hand, Odysseus was unshakably loyal to his men and he craved his brotherhood with them---yet on the other hand, because of his insatiable curiosity and some passionate moments where his hubris got the better of him, his men often suffered the consequences.
For example, Odysseus was so rabidly curious about the cyclops Polyphemus, that he led his men in to the brute's cave to see what they could see. The next thing they knew, Polyphemus returned with his sheep and trapped Odysseus and his men in the cave by blocking the exit with a giant boulder. While trapped inside the cave a couple of O's men were seized and eaten alive by the enraged Polyphemus.
Now---thanks to Odysseus' keen escape strategy when he and his men got the cyclops drunk and then speared Polyphemus’s eye out and finally fooling the cyclops by escaping underneath the cyclops' sheep when he let them out to pasture---most of O's men were saved---or, at least for the moment.
When Bruce Arians on national TV taunted the Rams (how ironic) following the Cardinals 2014 victory in St. Louis with Ryan Lindley at QB and Kerwynn Williams rushing for over 100 yards---his display of hubris was akin to Odysseus's when Odysseus mocked Polyphemus ("N'body tricked me!").
Odysseus's mocking of Polyphemus was the very reason why he would eventually wind up losing all his men and why it would take him twenty years to return home to Ithaca. You see, Odysseus did not know that the cyclops's father was Poseidon, the God of the Sea and Storms.
Like they say, what goes around comes around.
After Odysseus and his men were cursed and repeatedly thundered upon by Poseidon, the once popular and charismatic King of Ithaca was now no longer trusted by his men. While Odysseus remained extremely loyal to most of his men, his men no longer were willing to heed their captain's warnings.
Odysseus warned them not to eat the lotus leaves in the Land of the Lotus Eaters---alas, the men did and many of them lost their memory because of it. When he forewarned his crew not to mess with Circe, the sorceress, the men couldn't resist, and she promptly turned them into swine. When Odysseus tried very valiantly to navigate through the Scylla and Charybdis, many of his men watched in horror as two boatloads of men were ripped to shreds by the eight-headed monster before their bloody remains got sucked into the giant whirlpool.
Finally, upon arriving in the Land of the Sun, Odysseus adamantly implored and warned his men that they would perish if they ate Helios's cattle. Alas, the last of Odysseus' men were lost in the Land of the Sun (yet another irony, perhaps?).
Whatever Bruce Arians and his fellow coaches have been telling the players over the past two years, the players are not following the coaching way they were during the early legs of Arians' command. For example, Arians has always been emphatic about the first five minutes of the third quarter will often decide the outcome of the game---and yet the past two years the Cardinals have been scored upon with alarming regularity at the start of the 2nd half.
Arians has warned his men that their mistakes would not only cost them games, but could cost them jobs. Yet, the mistakes keep happening in the same fashion, over and over. And, after a hard-earned win, just when it appears the players are back on board and have gathered momentum, some strange and now familiar gale blows them backward and off the course.
Recently, Arians has been contemplating when to take that sweet ride with Christine home to their version of Ithaca where they can enjoy their halcyon days in peace on the lake. He says that losing the last two years is making him "all the more hungry to return." For a great competitor and fan of the arena like BA, that's what one would expect.
But, Arians, like Odysseus, and like any captain who has been sailing the seas and battling storms for decades, has been weakened by time and fate. Likely he is wondering what it would feel like to leave the brotherhood and competition he has spent his entire life thoroughly ensconced in. Ask any competitor and he or she will tell you, there is always something more to prove.
If it is time for Arians and his wife to embark for their forever home---he deserves the satisfaction of knowing that he took a much beleaguered franchise and perennial long-shot and helped shape them into a contender over a thoroughly exhilarating and unprecedented three year's span.
Yet, if Arians thinks the same way Alfred Lord Tennyson did when Tennyson wrote his famous poem "Ulysses" which is about Odysseus's last sail for glory, and Arians wants to re-assemble his mates to go for the gold one more time, then:
"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." (Alfred Lord Tennyson, from "Ulysses")