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Not Feeling The Arians Nostalgia

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

This morning when I read Scott Bordow’s article in The Athletic titled “How Bruce Arians Cussed Out the Cardinals and Still Earned Their Loyalty and Lasting Respect,” I felt compelled to respond.

First, here is the link to Bordow’s article:

Now, here is my response:

Bruce Arians is an enigma. His “no risk-it, no biscuit” style of offense is both gutsy and reckless (his QBs get repeatedly hammered because of minimum pass protection---which was rumored to be the reason why the Steelers didn’t renew his contract, for the sake on Big Ben’s longevity).

Regardless, Arians won 49 regular season games in 5 years, but went only 1-2 in the playoffs. For all of his talk about “All or Nothing”—-his top priority was to keep his assistant coaches happy, even though Amos Jones was a horrible ST coordinator who cost the team some wins, and James Bettcher was way under-qualified (3 years as NFL assistant---never having run a defense at any level) and inexperienced to be an effective DC (hired by BA when the likes of Wade Phillips, Dick LeBeau and Jim Schwartz were available).

As a result, when the bottom started falling out, along with BA’s serious health issues, some of the veterans you quote in this article stopped playing hard for him. Peterson became a joke as a punt returner and tackler. Tyrann Mathieu became a tentative brooder, despite the fact that the team ripped up his rookie contract (albeit following his 2nd knee injury) and paid him $13M a year, $31M guaranteed—-ironically BA said in an interview that he wondered how S Tony Jefferson would play “once he got his money.” DE Calais Campbell, who was called out publicly by Arians during the 2015 season, defected to Jacksonville where he has blossomed into an All-Pro and Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Just as dubious and careless as BA’s “win or lose, we booze” mantra was---after a while it just felt like all he had built was a house of cards. His “cuss em up now and hug em later” coaching philosophy was effective for a number of players early on---but the players started drowning out BA and his coaching cronies because they knew after a while that they could cut corners and get away with it. Plus, repeated tongue lashings typically create a point of no return. The Bruce Springsteen line comes to mind: “End up like a dog that’s been beat too much, ’til you spend half your life just covering up.”

Lastly, by design, BA’s hubris, carelessness and penchant for self-promotion were the cocktail ingredients of his tragic flaw. He humiliated the Rams after a nationally televised game---and the Rams hit back hard (even though Arians begged the team to have his back)-to the point of knocking Carson Palmer into retirement--and look at the Rams now. In a way, BA did more to motivate the Rams than he did for his own Cardinals.

Arians eagerly assumed the lead role in Amazon’s “All or Nothing” series---and yes, Arians is highly entertaining as an anecdotal, boozy cuss-ready provocateur---but just when the party of the 2015 season was getting merry, it came crashing down like the worst kind of hangover amidst the humiliating 49-15 butt spanking the Panthers laid on the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. Arians’ Cardinals after that game, were relegated to being pretenders and no longer contenders. Meanwhile, Arians amped up the volume of his public denigrations of some of his players, going as far as calling one of them “a failure in progress.”

Despite the Cardinals’ sudden drop in competitiveness in 2016 (which BA later claimed was because of the loss to the Patriots in week 1, that it knocked the wind out of a vulnerable team), BA felt, on the eve of his final year with the Cardinals, that it was time to write and publish his autobiography---in which he described himself as “The QB Whisperer.” Which is ironic because his QBs would tell you, BA’s style never included whispers. And even more ironic in that BA’s own assistant head coach, the venerable Tom Moore, had been given that moniker---not by Moore himself, but by the media in Indianapolis for years of his astute mentoring of Peyton Manning.

Furthermore, whatever it was that BA had to whisper in the ears of Logan Thomas (from BA’s alma mater, Virginia Tech), the one QB Arians drafted in his entire 5 years as Cardinals HC---resulted in a mere 16 month tenure with the team---ending swiftly and abruptly when Thomas was cut at the end of his second pre-season.

When BA left the Cardinals, both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton were beaten up (Palmer with a broken arm suffered versus the Rams during a 33-0 blowout in London) and, even worse in some respects, BA had left the QB cupboard bare---something it has now taken the Cardinals two head coaches in two years and a #1 pick in the NFL Draft to try to rectify.

In sum, Arians brought a bravado to the Cardinals the kind of which they hadn’t seen since Buddy Ryan and Dennis Green. Unlike Ryan and Green, BA racked up 50 wins in Arizona---but when measured by his own “All or Nothing” philosophy---aside from the a few weeks in 2014 and 2015 where it looked like “All” was actually possible---by the end of 2015---it felt more like a whole lot of pretending.

Even though Ken Whisenhunt had fewer regular season wins than Arians, Whiz’s 4-2 playoff record and NFC Championship win, accompanied by the Cardinals first and only trip to the Super Bowl---by BA’s own All or Nothing standards---can be viewed as a higher level of success.

Some always argue that Whiz’s success was all because of Kurt Warner’s excellence---but, hey, BA had Carson Palmer---and both QBs had WR Larry Fitzgerald, one of the greatest playoff performers in the history of the Arizona Cardinals and the NFL post-season.

If BA hadn’t marketed the phrase “All or Nothing,” maybe it would be easier to look back on his 5 years more nostalgically. But---for me---and perhaps some others---looking back on the whole roller coaster ride brings back feelings of exasperation and disillusionment---kind of like the feeling one gets when one has been conned.

That’s why BA is an enigma—-for three years he brought hope in a loud and ostentatious manner—-but in the end, it was only whipsers of a dream deferred.

(P.S.—-to be perfectly honest, the ironic thing I am missing the most about BA is not his offense, but his policy on defense of going all out after the QB late in games, particularly when the offense needs the ball back. BA would have never called two 3 man rushes on big 3rd and long plays versus the 49ers—-not in a million years.)