For Bruce Arians and Rex Ryan, being bashful is not an option
TEMPE, Ariz. — Generally speaking, the most popular people involved with a football team actually play for the team.
In Arizona, that may not be the case.
It did not take long for head coach Bruce Arians’ star to rise. It helps, of course, that the Cardinals have won 35 of his first 50 games with the team and taken them to the playoffs twice in three seasons, but his outgoing personality is a big part of his appeal, too.
For better or worse, Arians has never been afraid to speak his mind, both to media and his players alike.
From a player’s perspective, his brash personality is welcome.
“He wears his pride on his sleeve, he wears his feelings on his sleeve,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “If he has something on his mind, he’s not going to beat around the bush. He’s always going to come out and tell you and he’s going to be honest, and as a man, you have to respect that about him.
“There’s never any gray area, and I think the thing that bothers people most in athletics is when there’s a lot of gray area; there’s not much gray area. You know exactly where you stand and what he wants, he lets you know, so the communication is really good and I think players appreciate that.”
Most players on the Cardinals’ roster have been called out by the coach in some capacity. Just this week, he criticized the play of running back David Johnson, and in the past offensive lineman D.J. Humphries and defensive lineman Calais Campbell have drawn his public ire.
Johnson called Arians’ critique a good thing, as it helps keep him grounded and pushes him to play better. Besides, how can he be upset when he’s not the only one to draw criticism?
“Honesty is the best way, especially from a coach, our head coach, and he’s really good at that,” Johnson said. “He’ll definitely let us know in practice, in games, what he really thinks.”
Johnson said that with a smile and a chuckle, because honestly, no one really likes being criticized. But players will tell you harsh words can be necessary, and when they come from a coach like Arians, they are generally accepted.
“The method is to get guys to do the right thing,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I don’t think it’s a motivational thing. I know it’s not to prove a point like, ‘I can yell at anybody.’ It’s he expects it to be done right, whether it’s David, Andre (Ellington), Chris (Johnson), myself, Larry, whoever it is. He expects things done right and when they’re not, he’s not subtle about it. You’re going to find out.”
Remember the Amazon series “All or Nothing,” when Arians explained to his players that his criticism is about their football and not them as people?
Arians believes in it and his players believe in him, which in turn allows the coach to be himself.
On the opposite sideline in Buffalo Sunday will be Rex Ryan who, like Arians, is known for having a big personality. Asked why it has worked for his counterpart, Arians said it’s because players like honesty.
“If it’s brutal, it’s still honest,” he said. “They like being coached, and Rex is a hell of a coach. He knows how to get his guys in position to be successful and he knows how to teach it. That’s all players want.”
Ryan’s bravado served him well for a time in the Big Apple and then he took it with to Buffalo, albeit with less success. These days he has been a bit muted, which is the cost of having a losing record. Still, Ryan said there are a few reasons for why players can relate to the kind of style he and Arians bring to the table.
“I think in Bruce’s case, obviously he’s got the pelts to show the kind of coach he is and the coaching acumen he has,” Ryan said. “The other thing is that he’s just himself. That’s what you have to be in this business. I think if you try to be somebody you’re not, that’s not going to be effective. But, clearly, Bruce has always been himself and I think that’s why it’s so effective.”
Arians got the Cardinals job at age 60, and has long maintained it will be his last coaching job. That mindset has given him a certain level of freedom to do things his way, without fear of turning off potential suitors.
As long as the wins keep piling up, so too can the sound bytes, quips and criticisms, because the players know it all comes from the right place.
“In the end, it’s all about getting your job done,” Campbell said. “However that may be. But in the end, we have to be accountable to each other, and accountable to the people in our family, and our coaches and players, we have a very close-knit family — that’s why we’ve had a lot of success these last couple of years.”
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– Carson Palmer’s 40 wins as the Cardinals’ QB are third in franchise history, and since 2014, his 20-4 record as a starter and .833 win percentage are the best in the NFL.
– Safety Tony Jefferson has at least 10 tackles in each of his last three games (including playoffs).
– With a win the Cardinals would notch their first victory in Buffalo since 1971.
– Larry Fitzgerald has failed to catch a pass in a game just one time — in Buffalo in 2004. If he scores a touchdown Sunday, he will become the first Cardinal since Roy Green in 1984 to catch a touchdown pass in each of the first three games of a season.
– Last season, Palmer became the first QB in Cardinals history to have a rating of 100 or better in each of the first three games. If he posts a QB rating of at least 100 against the Bills, he will do so again.
– With 130 or more yards from scrimmage Sunday, David Johnson would become the first player in franchise history to post at least 130 total scrimmage yards in each of the first three games of a season.