TEMPE, Ariz. — Hop in a time machine and travel back to January 2013.
Bruce Arians, having just guided the Indianapolis Colts to an 9-3 record as their interim head coach, was one of the hotter head coach candidates on the market.
The Chicago Bears, having parted with longtime coach Lovie Smith, brought Arians in for a visit.
By Arians’ account, it was a good visit.
“They were the first ones to put paperwork in for me, so that was the first interview I gave,” Arians, now the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach, told the Chicago media Wednesday. “I felt very comfortable. I thought it was a great organization. Phil and all the guys there, Mr. McCaskey, everybody. They were great. It was a day that I thought went very well, and they made a decision and I went on with it.”
Jay Cutler, who is the Bears quarterback now and was then, met with Arians during his visit.
“Loved the guy,” Cutler said. “You could tell right away that the guys were going to like him and buy into what he had to say. He’s a guy’s guy. He could sit around and shoot the [expletive] with you or he could sit around and do whatever.
“I really enjoyed my time with him. He knew offensive football, that was the least of his concern. He had a great plan and obviously Arizona picked him and got a great coach.”
But for whatever reason the Bears did make the decision to pass on Arians, instead choosing former NFL offensive coordinator and then-Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman. Just a couple days later, the Cardinals tabbed Arians to be their head coach and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Bears won eight games in 2013, a year in which the Cardinals won 10. Chicago slipped to five wins in 2014, leading to Trestman being fired, while Arians guided Arizona to 11 wins, earning a playoff berth and the coach his second career Coach of the Year Award.
Suffice to say, things worked out better — at least right now — for the Cardinals. And Arians, too.
Speaking with the Arizona media, the 62-year-old first-time head coach said he doesn’t know what else he could have done to impress the Bears into hiring him.
“I’ve never been told anything, don’t really care,” he said. “I’m just happy they said ‘no.'”
Asked to reaffirm that, Arians said, “hell yeah,” and why wouldn’t he be pleased with how things worked out? Arians is in a good situation with a team that seems to fit his mentality, one that enjoys his coaching style while giving him a chance at a Super Bowl.
That’s in part because of Carson Palmer, whom Arians and the Cardinals acquired a couple months after the coach landed the job. The veteran quarterback said he is glad his coach didn’t end up in Chicago, as it has been “a blast” playing for Arians in Arizona.
“He’s coached for a long time, won Super Bowls and done everything you want to do as a coach, except win the ring himself as a head man,” Palmer said. “To have that opportunity, it’s an amazing opportunity for him and a huge opportunity for me because I don’t have a ring and that’s what we are here for.”
The year before Arians arrived, the Cardinals won five games and did not appear to be close to competing for a Super Bowl. Three seasons later, they are viewed by some as one of the favorites in the NFC, with Arians being a key reason as to why. Meanwhile, the team Arians was close to coaching — the Bears — is adjusting to life with a new coach. It didn’t have to be that way.
Yet, while everyone can wonder just how close Arians was to being on the home sideline during Sunday’s matchup between the Cardinals and the Bears at Soldier Field, the coach himself doesn’t think about it. Things are good in Arizona, after all, and that’s what matters.
“I don’t look in the past,” he said. “I am just as excited as hell to be here with the things we are doing and with the guys who are doing them.”