Bruce Arians faces off with organization that ‘re-fired’ him

Oct 15, 2015, 2:54 PM | Updated: Oct 16, 2015, 4:36 pm
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, right, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians watch fro...
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, right, and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians watch from the sidelines during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec 4, 2011. The Steelers won 35-7. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Two years ago, when Bruce Arians was preparing the Arizona Cardinals for a matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, the coach compared playing against the team he led as the interim boss the previous season to playing your brother in the backyard.

“I’m kicking your (bleep),” he said, with a smile.

Earlier in the same press conference, he was asked about how improbable his journey over the previous couple years had been, after he briefly retired only to become the Colts’ offensive coordinator, then their interim head coach, then the Coach of the Year, and finally the lead man in Arizona.

“Oh yeah, from re-fired, excuse me, retired,” he said, with a chuckle.

A little less than two years later, Arians will be facing off with the very organization that “re-fired” him, as the Cardinals visit Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers.

You’d think if the Colts were like a brother whom Arians had no ill will toward but wanted to beat then the Steelers would be on a bit of a different level, right?

“I’ve been in the visiting side of that locker room about, oh gosh, eight times,” Arians said. “I’ve been in both sides of that locker room. I went back the year after I left for a preseason game. So yeah, it’s just another game on the schedule.”

Sure it is, coach, Sure it is.

As if anyone truly believes that.

“Not at all,” Tyrann Mathieu said when asked if Arians has to tell them how much this game means to him. “We’ve got a couple ex-Steelers on our team, too, so I think it goes without being said.”

“Oh yeah, not even just him, but with (Larry) Foote, Brentson Buckner is our D-line coach, we’ve got LaMarr Woodley,” linebacker Kevin Minter told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday when asked if this is a big game for Arians. “We’re pretty much the Arizona Steelers. They can’t wait to come see these guys.

“You can feel it throughout practice and what not, these guys are really focused, they’re really tuned in to this game because it’s a homecoming for a lot of these guys.”

Minter said Arians has not really told the team this game carries extra importance, but that there is more of a feeling for just how much he would like to leave the Steel City with a victory.

The players know their coach, and they know his history. So they know. Hell, even the players on the other team know.

“I don’t believe that,” Steelers receiver Antonio Brown said of Arians downplaying the significance of the game. “Knowing him and how competitive he is, I’m sure he’s going to want to come in here and put on a show; seeing how many people counted him out and wanted him out of here.”

Arians was with the Steelers from 2004 until 2011, with the final five seasons being spent as the offensive coordinator. In that role, he helped guide the team to a pair of Super Bowls, including a victory in Super Bowl XLIII over the Cardinals.

Yet following the 2011 campaign, the organization decided not to offer him a new contract, and ultimately hired Todd Haley, who ironically was the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator in that same Super Bowl.

Asked this week if  if  thought Arians was going to retire once a return to Pittsburgh was not an option, Tomlin said he wasn’t certain but knew it was a possibility. However, seeing what Arians has done since leaving Pittsburgh — a 34-15 record along with a pair of AP Coach of the Year Awards — has come as no surprise.

“I know a lot of those men, and obviously Bruce. They’re competitors. They’re very good at what they do,” Tomlin said. “They’re going to be in the thick of things always, because that’s just their mentality and they’re capable people.”

Indeed they are.

A win Sunday would be big for a lot of reasons, personal and professional. The Cardinals are currently 4-1 and have a two-game lead in the NFC West, and being able to knock off a potential playoff team on the road would go a long way toward cementing their status as one of the NFL’s elite.

That’s why, for all of the talk about how beating his former team would be a big deal for reasons other than just earning another victory, there are some Cardinals who actually believe their coach when he says it is not.

“I’m sure it does a little bit, but he’s so focused on this team and this year, and not years past,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Obviously, going back to a place you’ve worked before, there’s a little extra on it, but his focus is so on this team and getting to 5-1, what’s happening in our division, where we’re at and where we need to improve. Things that need to be fixed and coached that I don’t think he has time to really dwell on the past and all the great things he did in Pittsburgh.”

Maybe this game means more than most for Arians; maybe it does not. If it does, the coach isn’t saying, though when asked if his players are curious about how he’s viewing it, he said not really. Why, you may ask?

“They’ll probably just watch me all week.”

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Bruce Arians faces off with organization that ‘re-fired’ him