INDIANAPOLIS –Bruce Arians began his coaching career in 1977 at Virginia Tech, one year after ending his playing career there as a quarterback.
There has not been one football season since that he has missed coaching, and he is a seasoned tutor who has served with five teams in the league.
This season is different in that Arians has taken the interim coaching duties while his close friend, Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano, is fighting leukemia.
Arians has directed the Colts into action for the last four games, and he has compiled a 3-1 mark. It is a record that stands well among the others who have been pushed into such a role previously in franchise history.
John Sandusky was 4-5 in the games in 1972 when he succeeded Don McCafferty. His four wins under those interim conditions stand as the club mark. Joe Thomas was 2-9 in 1974 after succeeding Howard Schnellenberger, while Rick Venturi was 1-10 in his outings in 1991 after replacing Ron Meyer. Hal Hunter lost the final game in 1984 after the departure of Frank Kush. Jim Caldwell was 0-1 in serving one game for Tony Dungy in 2005.
Arians is an aggressive type of coach, something that was evident Sunday when he gambled on fourth-and-one at the Tennessee eight-yard line late in regulation with the team down, 13-6. Indianapolis converted and then scored on the next play. The club scored again in overtime while going into the wind on the extra session's first drive in prevailing, 19-13.
The Colts ran six straight times on the march, then scored on a creative play where quarterback Andrew Luck scrambled to his right before pivoting and hitting running back Vick Ballard across the field. Ballard raced toward the pylon and dived in for the winning score.
The play was installed during the week from something Arians had seen years before from watching a collegiate game on television. He used his instincts and trusted his players. The Colts were victorious and snapped a 10-game road losing streak. The players admire their interim coach's moxie.
"I love it," said tackle Anthony Castonzo. "I can't speak for my teammates. The fact that he made that real gutsy call there at the end of overtime, it's awesome that he has enough faith in us to gamble with a play call like that."
Castonzo helped pave the way for the score along with his teammates on the line. The Colts gained 39 yards on the rushes prior to the scoring play. Castonzo finds his coach provides his players with concepts that work.
"He's (terrific). He's a guy who's going to be very honest with you. He's not going to feed you anything that he truly does not believe," said Castonzo.
Andrew Luck orchestrated the tying and winning 80-yard drives. Arians has been his mentor since joining the team in April. Luck said Arians was upfront that the change in his duties would not affect time he would spend in developing the young quarterback. Luck said Arians has been dutiful in living up to those words, even if it means extra hours in the office afterward.
As for the winning play, Luck saw forethought, not panic or frivolity.
"Yeah, I think so," said Luck when asked if players like the aggressive nature of Arians, "especially when there are some inventive plays, not gimmicks, but different things. You feel good as a player when the coach trusts you to run those plays."
Arians left Pittsburgh after the 2011 season and intended to retire, but Pagano called him a day or so into retirement and offered him the chance to re-join Indianapolis. Arians had served as quarterbacks coach with the Colts from 1998-2000, and he jumped at the chance to return and to coach under his friend. The two served from 2001-03 with Cleveland before they competed against each other when Pagano was in Baltimore while Arians was a Steeler.
Arians has shown his battling nature with the club, and it is something that players regard.
"Oh, yeah. We absolutely love him, man," said linebacker Dwight Freeney. "I think if you're a player in this league, you feel like you're invincible in a way, 'No one can stop us, no matter what it is.' If it's fourth-and-six, or fourth-and-inches, 'Let's go for it, we can get it.' You have to have that mentality. Having a coach who calls gutsy calls and goes out and says, 'Screw it, let's go and do this thing. Who cares? If it's not the right thing to call, let's take chance.'
"I think people respond to him (as a person and coach). He's a real guy. When things are screwed up, he's going to tell you. When things are great, he's going to tell you. It is what it is. He's going to tell you exactly what's on his mind. It may not come out the best way (laughs), but we understand it and we love it."
Arians is a low-handicap golfer whose aggressive instincts follow him from football. It is the only way he knows how to compete.
"(Laughs) I guess being a quarterback (growing up in college)," said Arians of when he developed his style. "I play golf the same way, no risk it, no biscuit. I'm never going to lay up. I hit a lot of balls in the water.
"I guess that's just who I am and who I always have been, even when I was a head coach before (at Temple). We play to win, all out. I try to live every day like that."
PAGANO VISITS – Head Coach Chuck Pagano made a brief visit to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center Monday and met with his coaches. Pagano is fighting leukemia and has been away from the facility since late September. While a light has burned in his office as the organization waits for him to return, his visit was business mostly but certainly had a human element.
"Chuck was in our staff meeting today," said Arians. "He had a great visit with the doctors. His counts were way up. He was feeling good, so he stopped in. He was able to sit in the office with the staff and listen to everyone's comments about the game.
"I think it was great medicine for him. He's doing extremely well. With his white count going up, he's ready for his second round of chemo next week. They'll hit him pretty good next week. Hopefully, (he'll) be able to be around a little more."
Arians said the staff was surprised by the visit and it was tough to see their leader leave.
"It was real tough, but he started to wear down a little bit," said Arians. "We had to chase him out so he didn't get too tired. It was great news. It was a shock to a lot of guys. Everybody was excited about him being here."
PERSONNEL UPDATE –Arians said the team had no update on tight end Coby Fleener (shoulder) and cornerback Vontae Davis (knee) who were hurt in Sunday's win. He hopes linebacker Robert Mathis (knee) and defensive end Fili Moala (knee) can return to practice on Wednesday. Cornerback Darius Butler (shoulder) has a chance to play on Sunday against Miami.
The Colts today elevated cornerback Marshay Green and fullback Robert Hughes to the active roster and signed cornerback Teddy Williams to the practice squad. The Colts also released nose tackle Antonio Dixon and running back Mewelde Moore.
Green, 5-10, 175, originally signed with Arizona as an undrafted free agent on April 26, 2010. He was waived by the Cardinals on September 5 before being added to the practice squad two days later. Green was elevated to the active roster for the final six games of the season. Green was waived by the Cardinals on September 2, 2011 and was signed to the practice squad on September 5. He was then elevated to the active roster on December 31 and appeared in the final game of the season. Green was waived by the Cardinals on August 24, 2012 and signed to the Colts practice squad on October 1.
Hughes, 5-11, 235, was signed by Chicago as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame on July 26, 2011 and was waived on September 3. He was signed to the Bears practice squad on December 19 where he spent the remainder of the season. He was signed by Tampa Bay on April 19, 2012 and waived on August 31. Hughes was signed to Washington practice squad on September 3 before being released on September 11 and signed to the Colts practice squad on October 10.
Williams, 6-1, 201, originally was signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent out of Texas-San Antonio on July 29, 2010. He was waived on September 4 before being signed to the practice squad a day later. Williams switched positions to wide receiver midway through the season and was elevated to the active roster on December 21. He was inactive for the final two games. Williams then spent the entire 2011 season on the Cowboys practice squad before being waived on August 31, 2012.
Dixon, 6-3, 322, originally was signed by the Colts as a free agent on October 9, 2012. This season, he recorded one tackle in two games played. For his career, Dixon has appeared in 37 career games (10 starts) with Philadelphia and the Colts, totaling 50 tackles (39 solo), three sacks and two passes defensed.
Moore, 5-11, 209, was signed by the Colts on June 19, 2012. He appeared in six games, totaling nine carries for 14 yards and four receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown. In his nine-year NFL career, Moore played in 119 games (15 starts), rushing 503 times for 2,261 yards and six touchdowns. He has also had 218 receptions for 1,911 yards and eight touchdowns.