Two seasons ago, head coach Lovie Smith was fired after the Bears missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. Despite going 81-63 in Chicago (and 10-6 that season), Lovie’s fate was sealed by his inability to find consistent postseason success with a defensive agenda.
The headlines in Chicago all read the same thing, week after week.
“Lovie only knows defense. Lovie can’t figure out the offense.”
Ergo, Lovie couldn’t get the best out of Jay Cutler. And Phil Emery, fresh off his first year as GM, was going to find someone who could.
Emery took his time. Over the first couple weeks of 2013 he interviewed over a dozen candidates, and just about all of them had offensive backgrounds. As the list grew smaller, I wrote about Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, and why he stood out amongst plenty of solid options:
‘Phil Emery may interview each candidate equally, but I’m not going to write about them that way. This would be what you call a “home-run” hire. Developing quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and now Andrew Luck, he (Bruce Arians) has shown an impressive track record with developing the most important position on the field.’
But ultimately, Phil Emery landed on Marc Trestman, an intriguing hire that screamed ‘potential.’ And the next day, Arians was hired by the Arizona Cardinals.
After nearly grabbing a playoff berth in his 10-6 debut last season, Bruce Arians and the red-hot Cardinals moved to 6-1 with an impressive win over the Eagles on Sunday.
The Bears? Well, they’re limping into the bye week at 3-5.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but it’s not exactly a surprise that Bruce Arians is experiencing such immediate success in Arizona.
Prior to his one season in Indianapolis as offensive coordinator, Arians ran the offense in Pittsburgh for five. In his time there, the Steelers won two Super Bowls and Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed his finest years under center. Arians nailed a practice run in 2012 when Colts head coach Chuck Pagano missed 12 games with leukemia; going an impressive 9-3 and leading the Colts to the playoffs with (rookie) quarterback Andrew Luck.
Bruce Arians was all but set to do the same in Chicago, but Phil Emery passed on him in favor of Marc Trestman.
In an interesting column from AZ Central’s Dan Bickley, he notes the Cardinals are lucky to have Arians considering the Bears had every chance to hire him:
“The Bears wanted Arians to do one thing: fix quarterback Jay Cutler. They desperately wanted to keep Rod Marinelli as defensive coordinator, believing that side of that ball needed no reform. That was a pipe dream from the start, as Marinelli was extremely close to the fired Lovie Smith and wasn’t going to remain in Chicago under any circumstance…Along the way, a high-ranking Bears official fell in love with Trestman.”
Marc Trestman’s coaching background is extensive, but by the time Arians and Roethlisberger were heating up in Pittsburgh, he was just getting settled in the CFL. Trestman last experienced NFL coaching success over ten years ago, when Rich Gannon won the 2002 MVP with Trestman as his OC. The NFL is a vastly different game now.
Bottom line? Bruce Arians has a proven track record with quarterbacks in the NFL, and more importantly in today’s NFL. If the Bears wanted somebody to fix Jay Cutler, Arians was clearly their guy.
Trestman’s foray back into the NFL had some fun moments last season, but the Bears also had their fair share of ugly losses — defeats usually labeled as “Trestman learning how to win.”
Now, it’s becoming a pattern.
Following last season’s rollercoaster campaign, it seems the Marc Trestman era has officially reached panic mode.
Meanwhile, Arians and the Cardinals are doing the exact opposite; gutting out dramatic wins and playing solid, balanced football each week to take control of the vaunted NFC West. And they’re doing it with the 34-year-old Carson Palmer at quarterback (who’s 4-0 as a starter this season).
Quarterbacks like Palmer, Roethlisberger, and Luck tend to thrive in the aggressive, downfield passing scheme Arians has used since his Pittsburgh days.
Big-armed quarterbacks who will throw a few picks? Hmm…sounds a lot like a certain quarterback on the Chicago Bears.
Trestman and Arians are two of nine current NFL head coaches that call their own offensive plays, with the others being Mike McCarthy (GB), Sean Payton (NO), Chip Kelly (PHI), Andy Reid (KC), Jay Gruden (WSH), Ken Whisenhunt (TEN) and Bill O’Brien (HOU).
More than anything, succeeding as a ‘coach-coordinator’ is determined by a coach’s personality — specifically their charisma. It’s about toeing the line between “psycho” and “motivator.” Finding the balance between “hardass” and “badass.”
An NFL head coach has to hold players accountable when they don’t execute, but also know when to cut loose. They have to constantly preach discipline, but keep a relaxed atmosphere. It’s a crucial role to play inside an NFL locker room, which has quite possibly the widest array of personas in major sports. And at this point, it doesn’t look like Marc Trestman has such a presence in the Chicago Bears’ locker room.
Mike McCarthy has that presence. Sean Payton has it. And Bruce Arians definitely has it.
In a great piece on Arians from CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco, that exact sentiment was captured neatly:
‘Arians is a refreshing change in a world of coaches who rarely say anything of note, and won’t say things that can be perceived as a slight to other teams. That’s why his players love him. They swear by him.’
Getting the best out of your players sounds like a simple task, but it’s quite the contrary. Bruce Arians does it, and that’s why the Cardinals are 6-1.
It’s also why Carson Palmer is playing some of the best football of his career.
Of course, Arians has a wealth of play calling experience and an effective offensive scheme. But above all, he gets the best out of his quarterbacks – the most influential position in the game.
Two seasons ago, Marc Trestman was brought in to coach and get the most out of the Chicago Bears. More importantly, he was brought in to get the most out of his talented quarterback Jay Cutler.
But right now, it’s obvious that job was meant for Bruce Arians.