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Dan Bickley

Bruce Arians’ potential return to coaching awkward for Cardinals

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Cardinals have a head coaching vacancy. Bruce Arians is looking for a job.

What’s wrong with this picture?

A lot.

Arians is the winningest coach in Arizona history. His retirement sendoff was a celebration in the Valley. We vowed never to forget Cool Uncle Bruce, his biscuits or his Kangol collection. How could we?

Now it’s complicated.

Did Arians actually retire? Or was he nudged out by ownership that grew uneasy with his work ethic and his stubborn conviction to a plan no longer working? Or was it his undying loyalty to assistant coaches who were failing spectacularly?

Or was Arians simply burnt out, in need of an uneventful year in the broadcast booth?

Either way, it says a lot that Arians isn’t a candidate for the Cardinals’ head coaching vacancy, especially when the candidate pool took an unexpected hit on Saturday, when USC denied the Cardinals’ request to interview Kliff Kingsbury.

It sounds absurd, a college program blocking a NFL franchise from interviewing an assistant coach. But a new rule commands obedience, or the Cardinals could be docked draft picks by the NFL.

Whatever. If Arizona’s future hinged on a collegiate offensive coordinator, all hope would be lost. It’s further proof that the Cardinals should call Washington State coach Mike Leach. And it furthers these uncomfortable questions about Arians.

It’s one thing for Arians to openly pine about coaching the Browns. Arians has a love for Cleveland, fitting their culture like ice cubes in a cocktail glass. He was the Browns’ offensive coordinator for their only playoff appearance since the rebirth of the franchise in 1999. He would inherit Baker Mayfield, a deep roster and a chance to beat the Steelers twice every season.

But when Arians interviews with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Ugh.

It feels dirty. It feels wrong. It’s like watching Mike D’Antoni leave for the Knicks, only worse.

Maybe the Cardinals don’t want Arians back. That would be alarming, especially after fond farewells. Especially after the hiring of Steve Wilks – the antithesis of the boozy, blustery head coach – turned into a dumpster fire. And all the national media members who believe Wilks got a raw deal should listen to D.J. Humphries, who recently described zero buy-in from the players in uniform.

As if we didn’t notice.

Or maybe Arians doesn’t want the Cardinals, and that would be horrifying. It would be an indictment of Josh Rosen from a head coach known as the Quarterback Whisperer. And what would it say of his deep relationship with Steve Keim, if he didn’t believe the Cardinals’ general manager could rebuild a contender when armed with a cachet of draft picks and salary cap space?

What if he brings Todd Bowles with him to Tampa, blocking our favorite defensive coordinator from returning to Arizona?

This is definitely awkward.

Maybe Arians is flirting with the Buccaneers because the Browns aren’t interested. The latter was the only head coaching job Arians said he would consider in 2019. Maybe his ego is dinged. Or maybe he planned on returning all along, after experiencing the unsatisfying state of semi-retirement, the vacuous confinement of a television booth.

Problem is this: If we all love Arians, and Arians loves us, why wouldn’t he swoop in and save Keim from his misery? After all, Arians is loyal to a fault. When he moved to Arizona, he scoured the internet to find the perfect red convertible for his wife. No other color would do.

What happened to that?

If the Cardinals pull off a coup and hire Adam Gase, disaster will be averted. But imagine if they are forced to settle with a retread or a never-has-been while Tampa gets the Arians Experience?

By the way, the Cardinals play the Buccaneers in Tampa in 2019. You might want to cover your ears.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Bickley & Marotta

Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier