INDIANAPOLIS – The 2012 NFL season was one unlike any other when it came to the NFL Coach-of-the-Year Award for the Associated Press.
So it was for Bruce Arians, too. Arians was named the NFL Coach-of-the-Year by the Associated Press for his role in helping lead the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth this past season.
Arians started the season as offensive coordinator, but assumed the field leadership role with the Colts in late September after Head Coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. In winning the honor, it was the first time the award was voted to an individual who did not serve as a full-time head coach.
During Pagano's three-month absence, Arians guided the Colts to wins in nine-of-12 games before relinquishing the reins to Pagano for the regular-season finale and the playoffs.
When Pagano returned, he cited Arians' outstanding job.
"What a masterful, masterful job," said Pagano. "You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win nine ballgames. You did it with dignity, and you did it with class. You're everything that I always knew you were, and more."
Arians, now the head coach with Arizona, joins Weeb Ewbank (1958), Don Shula (1964, 1967 and 1968), Ted Marchibroda (1975), Ron Meyer (1987) and Tony Dungy (2005) as Colts field leaders to gain honors as the league's coach-of-the-year.
"I wasn't coach of the year, the organization was coach of the year," Arians said in New Orleans when accepting his award. "More than anything it was Chuck. Coach, you set the path. We just rode the bus and kept the lights on the whole time."
Arians joins Ewbank, Shula and Marchibroda in being cited by the Associated Press, but he is the only coach who served in a substitute capacity in gaining the honor.
Arians helped guide an Indianapolis team heavy with rookies and younger players to one of the best one-season turnarounds in NFL history.
Rookies like Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton and Vick Ballard starred in an offense that included other players new to the team like Mike McGlynn, Winston Justice and Samson Satele.
The Colts opened the 2012 season with 22 returning veterans, a total that decreased by season's end. The Colts had 13 players on injured reserve, while more than half of the roster was comprised of players with less than three years of experience in the league.
Indianapolis had a nine-game improvement from 2011's 2-14 record, a rebound that tied the NFL's third-best all-time recovery.
The Colts were 9-1 in games decided by seven points or less, the most number of such games by a team last year. Indianapolis won its last eight straight games decided by seven points or less.
By earning a playoff berth, the Colts joined Miami (2008) and New England (1982) on the list of teams to make the playoffs one year after going 2-14 or worse.
Indianapolis did not lose consecutive games in 2012, only the ninth such regular-season in franchise history.
Arians was one of six men to serve in a substitute role for a Colts head coach, joining John Sandusky (nine games, 1972), Joe Thomas (11, 1974), Hal Hunter (one, 1984), Rick Venturi (11, 1991) and Jim Caldwell (one game, 2005). Arians was the lone one subbing for a coach (Pagano) who returned to the team.
Sandusky was 4-5 in the games in 1972 when he succeeded Don McCafferty. His four wins under those interim conditions stood as the club mark until this year. Arians tied him with the team's 23-20 victory over Miami on November.
Arians' nine wins tied the best totals ever achieved by an interim leader. Wally Lemm was 9-0, for Houston in 1961 in replacing Lou Rymkus. Hamp Pool was 9-2 for the Los Angeles Rams in 1952 in replacing Joe Stydahar. Don Coryell (8-4, San Diego, 1978; replaced Tommy Prothro), Mike Holovak (7-1-1, Boston Patriots, 1961; replaced Lou Saban), Bruce Coslet (7-2, Cincinnati, 1996; replaced David Shula) and Art Shell (7-5, L.A. Raiders, 1989; replaced Mike Shanahan) were other successful interim coaches in addition to Pool, Lemm and Arians.
Luck was one of many players who benefited by Arians' aggressive and demanding style.
"He has great people skills. He's a football guy," said Luck of Arians late last season. "He's been around football forever. He also (had) a great feel for what Coach Pagano was building. I appreciated his way of sort of throwing everything at us, saying, 'Here you go, go handle it. Go figure it out and go practice it,' which I thought was a great way to learn. He was there to push you along. He's been very helpful."