DULAC: York High grad Bruce Arians lives charmed life since 'retirement' from Steelers

GERRY DULAC
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
FILE - In this Jan. 17, 2021, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, left, speaks with quarterback Tom Brady before the team's NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. Both Andy Reid and Arians are considered players’ coaches, though they do it in different ways. It's a quality that’s helped them reach the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Brett Duke, File)

Some people get a watch.

Some get a leather recliner for their newfound downtime.

Others get a paid vacation getaway.

York High graduate Bruce Arians got a couple coach of the year awards and a trip to the Super Bowl.

Retirement has been good for the former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator.

Since the Steelers decided to not renew his contract after the 2011 season, it has been nothing but an unlikely yet magical ride for Arians. He is one of only 12 coaches in history to be named NFL Coach of the Year at least twice, has purposefully emblazoned himself as a role model for diversity and inclusion in the league workplace, and has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in the Super Bowl for the first time since the franchise won its only Lombardi Trophy in 2002.

"It's amazing," Arians said over the phone the other day. "If someone would have told me that, I would've said, 'What are you drinking or smoking, and can I have some of that?'"

After spending parts of his career working with Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, he is getting to spend the final leg of his coaching journey with the greatest quarterback of them all, Tom Brady. This will be Arians' first appearance in a Super Bowl since the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 season. It will be Brady's 10th appearance in a Super Bowl.

That is not lost on Arians, 68, who said Brady's impact on the Buccaneers has been immeasurable.

"Last year we had a really good football team," Arians said. "Just adding Tom put the attitude in the locker room. Nobody has been there, done that more so than him. He's likes the pied piper. Everyone just follows him."

York High graduate Bruce Arians, right, is seen here during his days as the offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers. At left is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Arians was let go by the Steelers in 2012. Since that time, Arians' NFL coaching career has soared.

Bucs remind him of 2005 Steelers: The Buccaneers come into the Super Bowl against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs having won seven in a row, including three consecutive playoff victories on the road. In many ways, Arians said it reminds him of the 2005 Steelers team that, like the Buccaneers, was also 7-5 before going on its run to the Super Bowl. Arians was the wide receivers coach on Bill Cowher's staff that season.

"We had Jerome (Bettis) and Al (Faneca) and 'Potsie' ( James Farrior), Aaron Smith, Hines (Ward), all those guys. It was a real brotherhood," Arians said, ticking off some of the stars from the team that became the first No. 6 playoff seed to win the Super Bowl. "I can really sense it with this team. My wife said it. She said watching us reminds her of that team."

Those were the good days with the Steelers. They included the 2008 Super Bowl victory when he was the offensive coordinator. A return to the Super Bowl two years later. Three seasons in a four-year span with a 12-4 record. But it didn't end that way.

Finding success after Steelers exit: Arians' departure from the Steelers on Jan. 21, 2012 was termed a "retirement," even though it was not. He was told after the season by coach Mike Tomlin he would be retained, only to discover days later team president Art Rooney II would not renew his contract. Proof Arians did not intend to retire came seven days later when he agreed to become offensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts.

When Colts coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and left the team four weeks into the season, Arians took over a squad that was 2-14 a year earlier and had 18 rookie or first-year players and guided the Colts to a 9-3 record in the final 12 games of the regular season. He became the first interim coach in history to be named the league's coach of the year.

The following year, he was hired as head coach for the Arizona Cardinals and doubled the team's victory total in his first season, going 10-6. That started a three-year run in which the Cardinals posted a 34-14 record, including 13-3 in 2015 when they made it to the NFC championship. In 2014, after leading Arizona to an 11-5 record despite season-ending injuries to his top two quarterbacks, Arians was named NFL Coach of the Year for a second time. Only 11 other coaches have won the award multiple times since it was established in 1957.

That spring, while playing golf at Whisper Rock, the ultra-exclusive club in North Scottsdale, Ariz., that is home to approximately 30 PGA Tour players, he looked back on his exodus from the Steelers and said, "I thank them every day."

Eye on diversity: If nothing else, Arians could be the poster child for how the league should address its ongoing problem with coaching diversity

He has created the NFL's most diverse staff in Tampa Bay, filling his four most important positions with Black coaches and hiring two female full-time coaches. Curiously, Arians spent eight seasons with the Steelers, where the Rooney Rule that advances diversity was basically born. The late owner, Dan Rooney, pushed for a rule that mandated teams have to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coach and general manager position. That rule has been expanded to include coordinator positions, as well.

Arians not only interviews minority candidates for those positions, he hires them. All three of his coordinators — former Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich on offense, Todd Bowles on defense and Keith Armstrong on special teams — are Black. All three played for Arians at one time or another, and he knows he can trust them.

In addition, assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, who coached with Arians for five seasons with the Steelers, is also Black. What's more, Arians is the only coach in the league who has two full-time women on his staff — assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength/conditioning coach Maral Javadifar.

Loyal to a fault: Arians is loyal to a fault to his former players. Bowles played for him at Temple. So did cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross. Todd McNair, whom he recruited to Temple, is his running backs coach. Former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote has been his linebackers coach since he was in Arizona. And former Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El is an offensive assistant. All are Black.

It's not surprising that when he was a quarterback at Virginia Tech, Arians was the first white player in school history to have a Black roommate.

"I think it's good for the game," Arians said of his diverse hiring in an article on NFL.com in 2019. "That is the best way to fix it. I just saw the inequality in it and tried to do something about it."

Giving Brown a second chance: He has also granted a second chance to Antonio Brown, the former recalcitrant Steelers receiver who blasted Arians on social media two years ago after Arians referred to him as a "diva." However, the decision to sign Brown was being pushed by Brady. Arians signed off on the request, but with a warning.

"He's been a model citizen," Arians said. "Of course, he knows one misstep and he's gone."

The leather recliner will have to wait.