A CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE ARIANS

Bruce Arians is in his first season as offensive coordinator with the Colts. Arians served as the club’s quarterbacks coach from 1998-2000 before serving as the offensive coordinator with Cleveland from 2001-03. Arians tutored wide receivers with Pittsburgh from 2004-06 before serving for the last five seasons as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator. This is the second of a two-part visit with Arians.

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What is your greatest football moment prior to the NFL?

"My best football moment before the NFL came in 1984, my second season as head coach at Temple.  We earned a 6-5 record that year and in the third game of the season we hosted Pittsburgh.  We won the game, 13-12, and it was one of the great moments in my career and in school history.  Pitt beat us my first year, 35-0.  It was probably the most humiliated I've ever been in sports.  They (Pitt) were laughing.  (In 1984) they had Bill Fralic and a bunch of All-Americans.  We had a young bunch of tough, big kids who were hanging in there.  Our defense was playing great.  We had a Beach Boys concert after the game.  It was third-and-19 with about two minutes left and we were down, 12-10.  We threw a hook-and-go and the corner bit.  The completion got us down to about the 10-yard line.  They called timeout and asked my kicker, 'Are you going to make this?'  He said he had it, so we ran most of the time off the clock and positioned the ball in front of the goalpost.  He made the kick and we won.  There were about 10,000 people in the stands at the start of the game.  Because of the concert, there were about 55,000 at the end.  We had a big Temple crowd, and we were going crazy.  It was the first time we had beaten Pittsburgh in about 45 years, certainly in the modern era.  This was right after Dan Marino left, but they still had Fralic, the huge offensive line and all those guys.  It was a mark for us that we were legitimate as a program.  We had about 20 minutes in the locker room, and then it was back out for the concert to hear the Beach Boys.  It was a good day.  There were 'Good Vibrations.'  It was fun."    

Do relationships drive you more in football than accomplishments?

"Certainly.  Relationships are what it is all about.  I still get calls from guys at Temple constantly.  There is no greater feeling in the world than to hear from former players.  I was a young coach at Temple.  I was around 30 years old, and my players were close to my age.  To hear some of those guys say, 'What you said in that meeting changed my life.  I'm successful today for having played with your coaching staff.'  It means a great deal to know you and your staff had that kind of impact on a young man.  At this level, the bonds you make with the Ben Roethlisberger's, the Peyton Manning's and the Edgerrin James', you never forget those.  Tim Couch (from the Cleveland Browns) still calls today, as does Kelly Holcomb (who played for Arians in Cleveland).  They're good friends – Hines Ward, Jerome Bettis.  The list goes on and on because I was around so many great guys – Christian Okoye, Todd McNair.  Building relationships, to me, builds respect.  You don't ask for it, you earn it.  You just can't have respect from a player or a coach without a 50-50 relationship.  It's like a marriage.  Accomplishments are for when they put you in the ground and say things about you.  At that point, the journey is over.  Right now, the journey is on-going.  It's the guys and the relationships that are formed that mean the most to me."

Players are guided by their high school and college coaches, but do they still need it at this level?

"Oh, yes, there's no doubt about it.  Players are so much younger now.  You have 20-year old rookies.  Even 30-year old veterans may come in for advice on an investment, or something of that nature.  You ask, 'Are you sure you want to stick you life savings in that?'  You see a smart guy, a great guy go bankrupt because he tried to get richer.  You want guys to cover all their bases before they get hurt.  The relationship is 80 percent teaching.  You're a glorified school teacher, that's all a coach is.  You give an exam to your players, and there are 60,000 to 70,000 people watching him.  Your pupils are passing the exam you taught them when they're playing in the game.  The other 20 percent is split between counseling and coaching.  Coaching is getting someone to do what they don't want to do."

What coaching trait is necessary to help young talent flourish?

"Probably the biggest compliment I've had came from Peyton (Manning), Tim (Couch) and a few other quarterbacks is that I can make the game simple.  I never thought of that because the game is simple for me.  Because the game is simple, I try to come across that the game is easy.  For those guys, they need to see the game in Technicolor, not black-and-white.  It has to be a beautiful color movie.  When they call a play, a big picture should pop up in their head, not a bunch words or assignments.  It should be a picture.  Within 25 seconds in their brain, 'If this happens, and this happens, I'm ready.  I know where to go with the ball.'  It's the same thing with receivers and running backs, you just clarify the game.  To some players, it can be a black-and-white picture.  For a quarterback, the game needs to be played in Technicolor, or digitally-mastered, whatever is best these days.  Technicolor used to be cool."

What do you remember the most about Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger?

"Their competitiveness is off the charts, every day.  I can't emphasize enough how much they hate to lose.  They hate ever having a practical joke pulled on them that may have been better than the one they pulled on someone else.  They love jabbing people.  The fierce competitive nature is the same in both guys, whether it's football, golf, practical jokes.  That competitive spirit drives them.  They're two different animals as people, but that driving force is to the extreme in them, and it is non-stop.  Peyton does it in a way where he knows he has to perform every day, and it has to be perfect.  Ben is more of a swashbuckler, let-her-fly, give-me-the-ball-and-I'll-make-it-happen type.  They both want to call the plays, and you want it that way."

What is your greatest NFL football moment?

"There have been many great moments, but winning Super Bowls XL and XLIII stand out the most for me.  The moments you reach the top of your profession are special because of everything that had to go right to get there.  Many people do not get to experience that in their careers, and I was fortunate to be a part of two world champions.  Sharing that experience with your city, your organization, its fans and your family are the best feelings because we were all along for a great ride.  You hope everyone can experience being the best at least once in his or her line of work.  You never are guaranteed it can happen.  If it happens, enjoy it."

What is it about football that drives you the most?

"The biggest thing for me is the relationships with players.  At the college level, you are getting players who are moving into adulthood.  They have been shaped in good measure by their high school coaches, and what you do is a continuation.  It is rewarding and challenging.  At the NFL level, you have men who will be playing the sport at its highest level, and you continue the teaching.  Because the game is so competitive and involves such dedication and sacrifice, you form very close relationships with your guys.  That is what drives me the most about football."

Do you have any rituals or superstitions?

"A lot of coaches or players do, but I don't.  Some would say if you claim not to have a ritual or superstition that you are not being honest.  Honestly, I don't have any."

If you weren't coaching, what would you do?

"If I were not involved in coaching, I would be in the teaching profession at some level.  Really what educators and coaches do is the same thing.  We are imparting knowledge and hoping to shape talents to produce results, and we want each student or player to do well.  I think a lot of coaches in any sport would give you the same answer because teaching is such a big part of our job." 

Who is the most memorable player you have coached?

"Being in the profession as long as I have been, it would not be possible to single out one player, or even a couple of them.  I have been blessed to see dedicated and talented players at a number of positions, and the talent level of the players you have is so special that you remember so many things.  I have had relationships and moments in my career that were created by a number of players and because of that, I would have to say they all are memorable.  It's not a cop out answer or dodging the question, it is the truth for me.  That's how I feel."

Your career likely has kept you from traditional holiday celebrations.  Do you have one that stands out in particular?

"We've kind of always made Thanksgiving and Christmas times for our (immediate) family.  My entire family always has had a reunion on Labor Day.  Since I went away to college…I think there was an open date once where I got to go.  We have a close family.  My mom was one of five kids.  My dad was an only child.  Everybody had four or five kids, so there are a lot of cousins.  The Labor Day reunion really is the only time that has been affected by my job.  The Fourth of July has been clean because we're not working then.  I took the Blue-Gray Game (in Montgomery, Alabama) one year on Christmas Day as an assistant coach.  I was the defensive coordinator, of all things.  Leon Burtnett and Eddie Robinson were the coaches.  The family went down for the game, and the kids were young.  It was one of their most memorable Christmas times.  We were at the hotel and my son had a 'he-man character.'  We were on the 14th floor and he kept throwing it off the balcony, getting on the elevator and going down to get it.  I told him it would kill someone if it hit them when he threw if off the balcony.  Working on Christmas Day that year made great memories.  It was the reunions that I missed, but my wife made the holidays work.  If you don't have a great wife in this business, your kids are affected, especially when you're young and you're driven to succeed in this business.  We moved 14 times, I think 12 while the kids were still at home.  She made every move an adventure and fun, after my daughter quit crying.  My daughter had to go to a different high school as a freshman, sophomore and junior year in high school.  I promised her I wouldn't move her for her senior year, and I moved.  She stayed, and I came to Indianapolis (in 1998)."

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