TEMPE, Ariz. — James Bettcher got his first NFL coaching job in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts as a special assistant to head coach Chuck Pagano, which led to him working with Bruce Arians.
He left the following season to go with Arians to Arizona, and just three years after landing that first job, Arians tabbed the 36-year-old to replace Todd Bowles as the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s easy to recognize shooting stars, and the time I’ve been with him,” Arians mused, “what separates him from other young coaches, I think, is his command of the room.”
Bettcher was promoted to the role from his spot as the team’s outside linebackers coach. He has never been a defensive coordinator at any level, and he is instantly one of the youngest coordinators in the NFL.
“I turn 37 in May so I’m going to be a little bit older in May,” Bettcher joked when asked about concerns over his youth and relative inexperience.
Bettcher went on to discuss how at his first coaching job, at the University of St. Francis, he worked with a coach named Kevin Donley as well as other experienced assistants.
“One thing they told me, and it’s stuck with me since that point, it will never be about your years of experience; but here’s what it will be about, it will be about your experiences in those years,” he said. “Don’t shortchange yourself along the way, and I’ve been so lucky along the way to learn from some outstanding coaches.”
One of the coaches Bettcher mentioned, Arians, had a different thought on how much age matters.
“Age doesn’t have s*** to do with it,” he said. “If you ask that guy back there (pointing to linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who was in the room), can he coach, I think he’ll say, ‘Hell yeah.’
“The guys that he’s sat in rooms with, John Abraham, Robert Mathis — they know he can coach. I know he can coach. There’s guys that have jobs for 40 years that shouldn’t have had them. So age has got nothing to do with it. It’s the experience, and like I said, the command of the room is what has always sold me on him.”
Bettcher has helped oversee some big years from outside linebackers John Abraham, who posted 11.5 sacks in 2013, as well as Alex Okafor, who led the Cardinals with eigh in 2014. Arians also mentioned Mathis, who went to four Pro Bowls with the Colts before Bettcher arrived, as someone who credits Arizona’s new DC for helping him improve as a player.