Bruce Arians would love to have another Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger or Andrew Luck waiting for him with the Arizona Cardinals. He doesn't. I don't think that'll slow him down.
Arians' decision to take the Cardinals head coaching job is a big loss for the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts leaned on Arians as offensive coordinator and interim coach through Colts coach Chuck Pagano's leukemia fight. He kept the team together and taught Luck the ways of NFL quarterbacking with an insight and background few possess.
A tough chore lies ahead for Arians, but this is his chance to run the show, on his own, and he's up for the challenge.
Arians was hired as coach of the Cardinals on Thursday, filling the last vacancy left in the NFL. I thought he'd be a great fit in Chicago, with Jay Cutler ready to be pushed to another level. The Bears went with another seasoned but first-time head coach Marc Trestman.
On the surface, the Cardinals lack what Arians loves most – a franchise quarterback who can sling it. They have Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley. Put them together and you've got about half a Roethlisberger.
But Arians proved this past season with the Colts he's not afraid of long odds or formidable obstacles. It was Arians who pulled the Colts together when Pagano went on medical leave three games into the season. He coached the team to nine wins and a playoff berth. This was the same team ranked No.32 in preseason power polls, a slight burned into their motivational t-shirts and psyches.
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis expressed his appreciation for Arians in a Twitter message Thursday directed at Arizona players, saying they will love Arians: “He will make u run thru a wall, then cuss the wall out for scuffing your shoes.”
There's some building to be done in Arizona, where the Cardinals hold the seventh pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. There are many holes to fill. The team started 4-0 in 2012, opening with wins over the Seahawks, Patriots and Eagles. Yet the Cardinals finished 5-11 and coach Ken Whisenhunt was finished, too.
Arians inherits wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and, as Reggie Wayne can attest, he'll try to find a way to get the best receiver the ball.
The question is whether Arians will transform one of the current Cardinals quarterbacks or whether Arizona moves to someone else. This is a thin college crop of quarterbacks. There's no Luck, no Robert Griffin III, no Russell Wilson. There might not even be a Brandon Weeden.
Surely the Cardinals will try to find some way to upgrade at quarterback. I know this: Arians will make the ultimate starting quarterback better with his knowledge and ability to teach the position. He taught Manning, Roethlisberger and Luck as rookies. They seemed to thrive, to put it mildly.
He'll be inventive with the offense, too. Even though he told Arizona reporters he will hire an offensive coordinator, he wants to call the plays. The offensive chess match is in his blood.
If Kolb, Skelton or Lindley can throw the long ball, they'll get the chance.
This isn't the perfect job for Arians, but it is likely his last chance to be a head coach. He's 60, and most teams shy away from first-time coaches at that age. A combination of Arians' skills and Arizona's urgency to find their man no doubt conspired to create the hiring.
Arians enters this unknown territory eager to prove he can handle the job. He was caretaker and team counselor as much as coach for the Colts while Pagano was out.
Arians' interim role with the Colts gave him invaluable on-the-clock training. He passed all the tests. The loyalty of his players, as shown by Mathis' tweet and similar ones from others, testify to his ability to relate to much younger players.
Arians knows what it takes to oversee a 53-man squad, and motivate every last one to deliver the goods no matter how much or how little they play.
It would be easier for Arians to transform the Cardinals if he had a Manning, Roethlisberger or Luck. He doesn't have one of those, and maybe he can't even create a facsimile from the existing candidates. But if anyone can, he can.