TEMPE, Ariz. — Finally, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians can turn his attention to the Indianapolis Colts.
He wishes he didn’t have to.
“I was hoping it would never be on the schedule because too many emotional ties to what happened last year to have to play them,” he said Monday. “I’m just glad we are playing here and not there. That would really be tough to walk into that stadium.”
After retiring following his dismissal as the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arians was offered a chance to join first-year coach Chuck Pagano’s staff in the same role in Indianapolis.
It was really nothing out of the ordinary, until things got crazy.
Pagano was diagnosed with Leukemia in September, leaving Arians to assume the top role on an interim basis. The Colts went 9-3 under his stewardship and finished the season with an 11-5 record, earning a playoff spot just one season after winning just two games.
Though Arians was not officially credited with those wins, he did enough to earn the AP Coach of the Year Award, making him the first interim head coach to claim the honor.
The coach’s success in Indianapolis led to his chance to take over in Arizona, and the circumstances that led to him to this point are certainly out of the ordinary.
“Many, many days,” Arians said when asked if he reflects on how Pagano’s illness led where he is now. “It’s a shame that it took that to get an opportunity.
“I’m just thankful he’s healthy and beat it and continues to beat it. That was really the whole focus last year.
“It did present an opportunity and I’m very thankful for it, but I hate that it had to happen that way.”
It’s all led to this point, where Arians’ 6-4 Cardinals will host the 7-3 Colts in a big game for each team. Arians said preparing for the Colts would be easy, though he expects pre-game warm-ups to be an emotional challenge. He added that he and Pagano, who chat pretty much every week, are not likely to do so ahead of the game, though he may trade some texts with Colts assistants “busting chops.”
Once the game starts, Arians said he expects it to be like any other.
Except, admittedly, it’s not. Arians was asked if a suggestion that he won’t have much emotion for the game is true.
“No, but I will hide it very well.”