After nearly four decades, Bruce Arians has finally reached the pinnacle of his profession.
It's been a long, sometimes difficult journey for the York High graduate and former York Catholic football standout.
Over the years, he's uprooted his family a staggering 15 times, sometimes to pursue a promotion, and other times because he was fired.
He's worked in college outposts such as Blacksburg, Va.; Starkville, Miss.; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; and Philadelphia, where he had a six-year stint as the head coach of the Temple Owls. In the NFL, he's had assistant coaching gigs in Kansas City, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
Now he's landed in Phoenix with the Arizona Cardinals. Only this time, Arians will
Arians, 60, wasn't sure if he would ever get the chance to run his own pro football team. It certainly didn't look like it last January, when he was basically run out of Pittsburgh as the Steelers' offensive coordinator. It didn't seem to matter that he was an assistant coach on two Super Bowl-winning teams in Pittsburgh, including a stint as the team's offensive coordinator for the Steelers' 2009 championship team. Ironically, that title came at the expense of the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, 27-23.
After Arians' contract was not renewed in Pittsburgh, there was talk that Arians may retire. Approaching age 60, yet another move may not have been all that appealing to Arians and his family.
But Arians is a football lifer, and when new Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano offered him a job as the team's offensive coordinator, he couldn't say no. The team was coming off a 2-14 season, but it did have one big appeal -- the Colts had the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. That meant Arians would likely get to mentor quarterback Andrew Luck, a once-in-a-generation talent from Stanford.
Arians, you see, has developed a reputation for helping to develop some the NFL's top quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Now he would get a chance to work with Luck.
The Colts got off to a 1-2 start this season and appeared headed for another losing campaign when Arians' life changed forever. Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and was forced to take a leave of absence. Arians was promoted to interim head coach.
He handled the transition with supreme class, insisting that he was only holding down the job until Pagano returned, even keeping the light on in Pagano's office. Of course, Arians has always been a class act. He never forgot his York roots, often returning to compete in events such as the York County Special Olympics Celebrity Golf Classic.
Arians excelled in his new role, leading the Colts to a stunning 9-3 record in Pagano's absence. Pagano returned for the regular-season finale and the team's playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was the feel-good story of the NFL season.
People took notice.
Arians' name was prominently mentioned for several NFL head-coaching openings. There was even Coach of the Year speculation. But just when Arians appeared ready to fulfill his life-long dream, his health took a turn for the worse. The prostate cancer survivor was sent to the hospital and missed the Colts' playoff game when he complained of dizziness and migraine headaches, conditions doctors believe were related to an inner-ear infection.
Some teams may have bypassed Arians because of his age and his health issues, but the Cardinals decided to take a chance on the former Yorker.
Now he faces the monumental task of turning around an offense that was last in the NFL this season. A bigger problem may be the quarterback situation that he is inheriting in Arizona. The Cardinals don't really have a bona fide NFL starting QB -- certainly no Manning, Roethlisberger or Luck.
After a 4-0 start in 2012, the Cardinals completely disintegrated and lost 11 of their last 12 games to finish 5-11.
Arians is walking into a mess, and he knows it better than anyone. But the Colts were in even worse shape heading into this season, and Arians, miraculously, helped turn that situation around. Maybe he can perform a similar miracle in the Arizona desert.
It's also important to remember that Arizona was in the Super Bowl just four years ago. Things can change in the hurry in the NFL.
But no matter what happens, at least Arians will finally get his shot to prove himself as an NFL head coach.
After nearly 40 years in the coaching game and 15 moves, no one deserves it more.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com.