True Grit

There’s more to Bruce Arians than meets the eye

With a career spanning nearly four decades and more than a dozen football coaching jobs at the collegiate and professional level, Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has passion by the Gatorade bucketful. But it’s his ability as a teacher that’s made him a man who’s beloved by his players at every stop along the way.

“Teaching is the one thing I always go back to,” Arians says. “Every student has a different hot button. When you’re trying to get passion as part of your business, it’s a natural thing a lot of guys have. But they have different ways of showing it.”

On the sidelines, Arians is famously expressive with his players. “I’m not one of those guys that believe in holding in your feelings,” he says. “I let everything go as it goes—it’s much easier that way and the guys feel that. You treat them differently as individuals, but you still need to get the message across that, if it isn’t perfect, it isn’t good enough.”

While a running back coach under Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant, Arians heard, “coach ‘em hard, hug ‘em later” as a constant refrain, as well as the legendary coach’s parting words to him.

“He was the master of personnel,” Arians says. “He could tell how anyone was feeling, up or down, or if they needed a boost of confidence or had too much confidence. A single word from him could make you think you could jump through a ring of fire.”

Bryant also exhibited another trait Arians adopted in his own coaching philosophy: putting family before football.

“There were times early in my career I worked for people where your job, football, was first and family was second,” he says. “I always regretted that part of my early career, missing some of my kids’ growth. But probably more than anything, the tough part was the times I had to tell my daughter, ‘We’re moving again.’ ”

That’s not to say he regrets taking the head coach position with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013—far from it.

“It’s such a great organization, starting at the top,” Arians says. “As president, Michael Bidwill has bent over backward to make sure we’ve got everything we need as a coaching staff and football team, and with our facilities. General manager Steve Keim is always on top of the best next player. And we have a great, passionate fan base that really wants a winner, and everyone’s hungry to get back to that this year.”

Following rotator-cuff surgery earlier this year, Arians was sidelined for several months from playing golf. Fortunately, he’d healed sufficiently by July to tee it up for the Fifth Annual Georgia Celebrity Golf Classic, a fundraiser for the Arians Family Foundation, which supports Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organizations in Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Georgia, as well as Kids Voice of Indiana.

Arians’ passion for helping kids also shined through with the creation of the York City Parks Conservancy in his Pennsylvania hometown this year.

“The mayor reached out to me, wanting to get the parks back up and running the way they were when we were kids,” he says. “A parent could drop you off and know you were safe. So, we started a conservancy to raise $3 million over the next couple of years to have everything they need facility-wise.”

In July, Arians published “The Quarterback Whisperer,” a nod to having coached some of the best field generals in the NFL and college over the years.

“It’s always been the most fun for me coaching quarterbacks, whether they’re in eighth grade or watching a Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger develop into a hall-of-fame player,” he says. “It’s stories about the relationships, what they share uniquely, and the grit that it takes to play that position—probably the hardest in sports.”

What’s next for Arians as he follows his passion? While he says it’s a year-to-year thing health-wise, he’ll continue to work tirelessly to raise awareness and funding for CASA through his foundation.

“I’d also like to stay in the game, whether it’s broadcasting or working with players in the off-season. That’s a good way to spend time—helping someone nurture his career.”

 

Story by Jake Poinier
Photography by Mark Lipczynski

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