SAN DIEGO — Just before the Arizona Cardinals began their joint practice with the San Diego Chargers, they learned their head coach, Bruce Arians, would not be joining them on the field.
“I didn’t hear until we were breaking it down right before practice started,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said.
The 63-year-old coach was taken to a local hospital after complaining to the training staff about stomach pain. As of Tuesday night, word is he will remain hospitalized overnight, with a further update on his condition expected Wednesday.
Even without Arians, practice went on as planned. As you could expect, though, the head coach was on the players’ minds.
Campbell said the team said a quick prayer for Arians after the doctors told them what was going on, adding that it “was definitely a tough situation” Tuesday night.
How could it not be?
Arians is one of the most beloved coaches in the game, and while the team had capable coordinators and assistants to pick up the slack, going through a practice knowing the boss is not well adds a dark cloud to what was supposed to be an enjoyable evening of football.
“Just praying for him,” Campbell said. “In this game, sometimes you kind of forget that this is normal life, what people are going through you just want to make sure they’re healthy and taking care of themselves.
“With B.A., everybody has so much love for him; he’s our leader and so we really need him. Whatever he’s going through, we just wish him a speedy recovery.”
Not surprisingly, after practice the players did not offer much in the way of details — odds are greater that they did not know rather than they were unwilling to share — but there was an admission that things were not the same without Arians.
“When B.A.’s here, he gets everyone ready, keeps everyone engaged in the practice, keeps the intensity up,” running back David Johnson said. “When everyone’s getting a little lackadaisical, he gets the intensity up, gets the guys back moving.”
Tuesday night’s Arians-less practice did not seem to lack energy on either side, though. Had you not known the head coach wasn’t around, you wouldn’t have picked up on that based on the team’s attitude and performance.
Had it not been for an in-stadium announcement by the P.A. announcer — which led to supportive applause from the fans in attendance — it’s possible no one would have even realized the two-time AP Coach of the Year was absent.
That’s exactly how Arians would want it to be, making sure both he and the team used the night to get better. The idea of pushing their coach’s health to the backburner may seem like a strange concept, but for football teams, the show must go on.
“Our job’s different,” center A.Q. Shipley said. “We always have to keep pushing forward regardless of circumstances. If somebody gets hurt in practice, on the field, you move the drill up 10 yards. So, it’s kind of one of those things, we keep him in your prayers, but he’s the coach of this team and he wants us to get good work today and that’s what we did.”
Shipley, unfortunately, has been in this sort of situation before. A member of the Colts in 2012, he was there when head coach Chuck Pagano had to leave the team due to leukemia. That led to Arians taking over as the interim head coach and then, after Pagano returned, Arians ended up missing a playoff game due to what was described as an inner ear infection or virus.
While not an ideal situation in any way, Shipley has a first-hand look at how a team has to respond. At the same time, he also has some insight into how this will hopefully play out.
“Coach is a fighter, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I’ve been around it before. I saw him go down, I think it was before we played the Ravens in the quarterfinals or whatever it was, and he was good to go a day or two later. So he’ll be fine, and we went out and good work on his behalf.”