In a metaphorical sense, Bruce Arians could be considered the NFL’s most modern version of Lazarus. With his coaching career all but left for dead twice, thanks to former Colts’ head coach Chick Pagano and former Cardinals’ assistant GM Jason Licht, BA’s coaching career was twice resuscitated and summoned back to life.
And now, following the Bucs’ stunning 31-9 win over the Chiefs last night, BA’s second revival has landed him his first Lombardi Trophy as an NFL head coach. That’s right, the Lombardi Trophy, which in terms of another metaphor, is the NFL’s version of the “Holy Grail.”
Last night marked the third time that Bruce Arians has hoisted the Lombardi.
The first time in Super Bowl XL when he was the Steelers’ wide receivers coach, the second time in Super Bowl XLIII as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, and the third time in Super Bowl LV as the head coach of the Bucs.
This is an impressive Lombardi trifecta that puts Arians is rare company—-made even more rare by Arians for winning his first Lombardi as a head coach at 68 years old, the oldest head coach to win the championship in the history of the NFL.
If BA and the Bucs win the Lombardi again next season with G.O.AT. Tom Brady returning at QB, then there is a very good chance that Arians’ golden bust, topped undoubtedly in a kangol hat, will be enshrined in Canton when the football gods deem him worthy of receiving professional football coaching immortality.
That’s how far BA has come since not being re-signed by the Steelers in 2012.
When one takes a close look at BA’s coaching career, it is rather astonishing how often he was coaching in the right place at the right time. How many offensive coaches in the NFL can boast that they coached Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady?
My mama had a nifty theory about the value of networking, She theorized: “E = mc2. After that it’s who you know in life.”
While Bruce Arians’ “no risk-it, no biscuit” and “coach em hard and hug em over a drink with em later” style of coaching has elements of genius to it —- some might beg to differ.
Regardless, what Arians has always been brilliant at is networking. He always pays utmost thanks and appreciation to those who gave him his opportunities in coaching, Along the way Arians always gathers up fellow loyalists, many of whom are wearing rings today because of BA’s unyielding allegiance to them. The same goes with a number of players he has always liked.
Sometimes in the past, BA’s allegiances to his own coaches have appeared to be blatant croneyism, particularly when some of his coaches were underachieving. But, if you pay close attention to many of the emotions BA expressed in “A Football Life”, he had often felt overlooked as a head coaching candidate —- which speaks to why BA is constantly trying to promote his assistant coaches as worthy head coaching candidates. This also is likely to account for why BA decided to fill Todd Bowles’ DC vacancy with 4th year NFL coach James Bettcher —- because that’s the kind of break that BA got when he was hired as the Browns’ OC when he was heading into his 4th year as an NFL coach.
Problem is, BA previously could offer college head coaching experience at Temple and offensive coordinator experience at Mississippi St. and Alabama, whereas Bettcher had never coordinated a defense, even in a his couple of years as a college coach.
The other problem for BA in Arizona was his bouts of hubris, perhaps the most egregious of which came when he publicly dissed on the Rams (while by inference and innuendo taunting their head coach Jeff Fisher). Those who believe in the football gods can make an apt case that Arians’ arrogance caused the gridiron gods to cast an insidious curse on the Cardinals —- because in the years after Arians ill-fated remarks, the Rams have become one of the top teams in the NFL, while the Cardinals have (ironically) become the so-called “8-8 team, at best.”
Since Arians’ remarks, the Rams have beaten the Cardinals 9 out of the 10 games (Fisher 1-1, McVay 8-0), most of which have been blowout wins.
Nevertheless, just as Lazarus was brought back to life by virtue of his sisters’ cries for help, two of BA’s strongest advocates saved his career. When BA was let go by the Steelers, who were concerned about the longevity of QB Ben Roethlisberger while playing in BA’s “no-risk it, no biscuit” style of offense, Chuck Pagano, BA’s former coaching colleague with the Browns called to offer him the Colts’ OC position —- which turned out to be a boon for BA and Pagano. While Pagano was in treatments trying to beat leukemia, Arians, as interim head coach, was leading the young Colts to the playoffs, which not only won Arians the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year award, it led to Arians landing the Cardinals’ job and to three years of unprecedented regular season success (34-14), which included a second NFL Coach of the Year award in 2014 (his last year with Todd Bowles as DC).
Then, following BA’s retirement from coaching in 2017 due t health issues, and following his one year as a color commentator on NBC, it was former Cardinals’ assistant GM Jason Licht who offered BA the chance to be the Bucs’ head coach. Licht’s eagerness to hire the then 66 year old Arians was in itself a miracle of sorts, in that it took a connection of that ilk to make it possible.
Had Jason Licht moved in another direction, it’s unclear whether BA would have ever gotten a head coaching offer again. Not necessarily for lack of talent or passion —- but in light of BA’s age, his medical concerns and even perhaps in light of how ornery he became at times during his last two years with the Cardinals.
But, Jason Licht was close enough to the situation to be able to believe that BA could do for the Bucs what he had started to do for the Cardinals.
For Arizona Cardinals’ fans, to watch BA become rejuvenated in Tampa Bay with Todd Bowles as his right hand man and watching them hoist the Lombardi last night, it’s difficult and almost impossible to avoid pondering a number of tantalizing “what if” scenarios.
What if Arians had not suffered a number of medical scares during his tenure as the Cardinals’ head coach? Would he still be the Cardinals’ head coach today?
What if BA hadn’t gone to such extent to promote Todd Bowles as a head coaching candidate in 2015? If Bowles had stayed on with the promise that he would become BA’s successor as head coach when BA retired, would the Cardinals have made the Super Bowl in 2015?
Could the combo of Arians and Bowles have won the Super Bowl in Arizona had they remained intact?
What if Carson Palmer had not suffered an ACL tear in 2014 —-would the Cardinals have made the Super Bowl right then and there? After all, Palmer was 6-0 when he suffered the season-ending injury and the team was 9-1. Even more tantalizing is the fact that the Super Bowl that year was in Arizona. BA and Bowles won it last night in their 2nd season at home in Tampa Bay. Why couldn’t it have been their 2nd year at home in Arizona?
Then there is the Eagles’ curse —- in 2015 —- what if BA and James Betcher had taken Tyrann Mathieu out of their blowout Week 15 (game 14) win over the Eagles and what if BA had elected to take every precaution by sitting his QB the next couple weeks after Carson Palmer suffered a dislocated index finger on his passing hand with the Cardinals up 23-6 in the 3rd quarter —- would the Cardinals, with a healthy Honey Badger and a better-healed Carson Palmer have made it to the Super Bowl?
NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl have their own litanies of “what if” scenarios.
It’s just extra tantalizing to see the ALL of “All or Nothing” come true for BA and Bowles in Tampa Bay, when they were pursuing it so well their first two years in Arizona.
On Twitter last night and today, a number of Cardinals’ fans and pundits are wondering whether Todd Bowles will be the Cardinals’ next head coach if things don’t work out for Kliff Kingsbury.
This could already be a moot point.
It would not be surprising if Jason Licht does what the Cardinals could have done by promising Todd Bowles a promotion to head coach when BA retires for good —- which is very likely after next year anyway,
The other thing is —- back in 2017 some Cardinals insiders were reporting that Steve Keim wanted to promote James Bettcher to head coach with either Norv Turner or Mike McCoy as OC...per BA’s recommendation.
However, it became quite clear that Michael Bidwill wanted to move on from the BA coaching tree. Perhaps, Todd Bowles would have been a clear exception, but Michael Bidwill had a chance to tab Bowles in 2019, but after hiring the defensive minded Steve Wilks in 2018, Bidwill was intent on signing an offensive innovator/QB groomer instead.
The Cardinals’ hope for 2021 is to keep building around their strong nucleus of young talent and that Kliff Kingsbury, Vance Joseph and Jeff Rodgers can take positive steps forward in leading and preparing the Cardinals to make the playoffs.
Today, PFF posted their Top 101 players of 2020 and the Cardinals were well represented by T D.J. Humphries (#31), WR DeAndre Hopkins (#36) and QB Kyler Murray (#71), plus one can imagine that S Budda Baker, OLB Haason Reddick and perhaps LB Isaiah Simmons are on the verge of making their Top 101 cases for 2021.
In 2019, only one Cardinal made the PFF Top 101: OLB Chandler Jones (#47). In 2018, only one Cardinal made the Top 101: CB Patrick Peterson (#40). And in BA’s last season in 2017, only 2 Cardinals made the Top 101: OLB Chandler Jones (#79) and WR Larry Fitzgerald (#91).
Thus, the Cardinals are making strides in terms of their young talent. As good as the Bucs were this year, they only had 4 make the Top 101 (1 more than the Cardinals): QB Tom Brady (#4), T Tristan Wirfs (##69), G Ali Marpet (#79) and LB Lavonte David (#93). Imagine then if this season Kyler Murray can crack the top 10 and if the Cardinals, like the Bucs, can have two OL make the Top 1001, plus a LB.
As we all know, It’s easy for Cardinals’ fans to be highly skeptical. By now it seems like a rite of passage.
However, Kyler Murray has been saying he expects big improvement in year three, spawned by the team’s much improved attention to detail and stronger work ethic.
if K1 is correct, then who knows?
Maybe 2021 Arizona Cardinals can feed on their own batches of biscuits and cherries.