Bruce Arians on Farewells and New Beginnings

The Cardinals coach reflects on Peyton Manning’s game-changing impact, moving on from last season’s loss in the NFC Championship Game, and the driving force behind his foundation to help kids
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For NFL coaches, there is no such thing as a true offseason. On Monday, while the first NFL quarterback he coached was saying farewell in Denver, Bruce Arians was stuck in a free agency meeting (he later watched Peyton Manning’s speech online). On Wednesday, the new league year began. And this weekend, in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Cardinals coach will host his third annual golf classic to benefit the Arians Family Foundation, which supports and develops programs aimed at helping abused or neglected children.

Several of Arizona’s core players will be at the event—Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson and newly re-signed Drew Stanton—and a few weeks later they’ll reconvene to start building off last year’s trip to the NFC Championship Game. The MMQB caught up with Arians to talk about Manning, his foundation, and offseason plans in and out of football.

VRENTAS: You were Peyton’s position coach with the Colts in 1998. Did you get one of the phone calls from him before he announced his retirement?

ARIANS: I talked to him over the weekend. He just wanted to let me know he was retiring, and thanked us for the early days, the friendship as much as the coaching.

VRENTAS: How did your work with Manning shape how you develop and coach QBs?

ARIANS: Each one is different, and you find out what ticks for them so that they can play freely on Sundays. I always called Peyton the piranha, because you could not feed him enough information about the other team—or your own game plan—to use on Sunday. Other guys, they get paralysis from analysis and you can only feed them so much, and then you’ve got to let them play. Each guy is different. Obviously, I could never take credit for any of these guys because God and mom and dad made them, you just coached them a little bit along the way.

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VRENTAS: How do you think Manning changed the position?

ARIANS: Just the way that he handled things at the line of scrimmage. The up-tempo got so popular because he was so great at playing at the line of scrimmage, and in his early years, developing that was a ton of fun. Watching him do it, learn it and come up with new ideas. Jim Kelly did a little bit of it with the K-Gun way back, but Peyton made it very popular. Being able to take three plays or four plays to the line of scrimmage, and put his team in the best one.

VRENTAS: You have your golf outing this weekend. What spurred you to create the foundation and support this cause?

ARIANS: My wife, Christine, was a kids’ voice attorney in Indianapolis and is now a volunteer going on 15 years with Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) programs. Watching her save these kids, one at a time, truly was unbelievable to me. The work she put in, and then watching these kids grow and have a future—and helping some moms who got their kids back…

It’s really to honor my wife and the work she has done, but we have such a problem here in Maricopa County. We have over 14,000 kids in the system and not even 1,000 CASAs. It is a huge problem, so we want to bring more awareness and raise more money. This year, we were able to write a check for $150,000 to Voices for CASA Children, and my wife is on a state committee to hopefully get some laws changed and make it easier to fund the CASA program.

VRENTAS: What have you learned through your wife’s experiences and your work with the foundation?

ARIANS: Perseverance for one. That there’s a good side to every person, and you just have to find it and help nurture it. And from the outside, just rooting that my wife can be successful when she takes a case, and that the child has a better life.

VRENTAS: Child abuse has been one of the subjects that has received increased attention in the NFL. How has your work with the foundation affected the way you handle players with these kind of off-field issues?

ARIANS: We have a very, very low tolerance of domestic violence cases with the Cardinals, starting with our owner and all the way through me. A couple years ago, we had a player charged, and then he actually was exonerated, but we still released him—and another guy off our practice squad. There is a very, very low tolerance here, for just that reason, that this cannot continue to go on.

[The NFL’s role] is not as much about the discipline of the few people that have those problems, as much as it is bringing awareness to something that is swept under the rug way too often. We try to raise as much awareness about domestic violence in all phases, and make sure that the people who are in that situation in your cities are getting as much attention as those one or two football players, and that we don’t turn our backs on it.

VRENTAS: What lesson did you take away from last season?

ARIANS: Don’t let the moment get too big. We were down by 10 [in the NFC Championship Game], and on the sideline it felt like 25. And you only get one opportunity; you have to be ready to play at that moment. We had learned that from losing in the playoffs the year before, playing on the road. We had to win our division. So we grew. We won our division, and we won at home [in the divisional round]. Now it is easier to say, ‘Hey, you want to win the [conference] championship, play it at home.’ It’s a lot easier at home.

VRENTAS: Coaches and players always talk about having a 24-hour rule after tough losses. But when your toughest loss is the last of the season how long do you dwell on it?

ARIANS: Until you start up again. That one lasts until you bring a new team together and start all over again.

VRENTAS: How will you bring your new team together this spring?

ARIANS: You have so many new faces, but the core of your football team will be back. You congratulate them on what they did, but you also make note that, hey, we fell short, this is why we fell short, and let’s make sure we get ourselves back to that position and handle it better this year.

VRENTAS: There’s been a free-agency frenzy around the league since Wednesday, but the Cardinals were pretty much quiet. What is your team’s approach?

ARIANS: We are usually quiet early in free agency. We feel like we have a really good football team. We’re trying to sign our guys, and then we’ve had a lot of luck later in free agency with some veteran players. That has kind of been our blueprint: re-sign our players, and add a few pieces to the puzzle. Our GM, Steve Keim, does an unbelievable job during free agency of fitting guys in our locker room and in our culture and then adding in the draft. And we’ve also been very lucky with college free agents; a number of them have made our team.

VRENTAS: Safety Tyvon Branch agreed to a two-year deal with Arizona. What will he bring to your defense?

ARIANS: A lot of position flexibility. He can play free safety, strong safety; he can play nickel [cornerback]. He does a great job playing man-to-man, and that’s something we need out of our safeties.

VRENTAS: Looking back at last season, how much do you believe Carson Palmer’s late-season finger injury affected his performance in the playoffs?

ARIANS: He is very, very tough. He would never let on [how much]. I think it affected a few passes, but not as many as some people want to think. We just didn’t play well enough as a football team around him.

VRENTAS: Going into last season, it was physical hurdles that Carson Palmer had to overcome after his ACL injury. Now you could say the hurdles are more mental after he committed six turnovers in the NFC title game. How do you think he will bounce back?

ARIANS: I think he’s already back. He’s working full speed ahead and looking forward to next year. I think players sometimes get over things a little bit quicker than coaches. He’s already got goals set. Weekly goals set. Daily goals set. So he’s going full speed ahead.

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