Bruce Arians' 50-year coaching career nearly began at West York junior high
Lou Orndorff will remember that interview for the West York junior high football coach position for as long as he lives.
Orndorff’s assistant coach and West York High graduate John Sprenkle heard from a former teammate of his at Virginia Tech who was looking to get into coaching and wanted to know if the program needed some help. Sprenkle told Orndorff the man would be a good fit and the pair decided to bring him in for a meeting.
The former Bulldogs’ coach recalls the conversation went well, although the interviewee was a little nervous during his first opportunity to receive a coaching position. Orndorff’s other memory of the meeting was a fashion choice by the man who since has become known for the unique Kangol hats he wears on NFL sidelines.
“I’ll always remember him coming down the hallway in that cream-colored suit,” Orndorff said with a laugh.
Orndorff, Sprenkle and longtime West York coach Terry Bupp, who was an assistant coach at the time, were ready to extend an offer to the man, but a different opportunity was presented that changed the trajectory of his career.
Instead of returning to the town he grew up in, 1970 York High graduate Bruce Arians accepted an offer to join the Virginia Tech staff as a graduate assistant in 1975 and launched a coaching career that has spanned 50 years and will see him lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — who wore creamsicle-colored jerseys in the '70s — onto the field at Super Bowl LV.
“Thank God he didn’t hire me because I went back and started my coaching career at Virginia Tech, and here we are,” Arians said during Super Bowl Media Day. “Crazy things happen in the coaching business and that was one of them, but I love Terry Bupp to death.”
Although the two-time NFL Coach of the Year ended up going in a different direction, Arians and Bupp stayed in touch over the years. Bupp, also a York High graduate, made trips to see Arians while he was the head coach at Temple University and an offensive assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While Bupp was visiting family during Arians' tenure as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, the old friends met up once again. Arians invited Bupp, his son Troy and grandson Tate, to his home and to a Cardinals’ game.
“It’s always nice to have someone you know from your school in the NFL,” Bupp said.
Bupp wasn’t the only York High graduate and notable name to make a trip out west to see Arians. Former York Mayor Kim Bracey traveled to Arizona to secure a financial commitment from Arians for a project they had spoken about years earlier.
Bracey got a tour of the Cardinals’ facility and left with $100,000 in funding for the creation of the York City Parks Conservancy. Arians said at the time that he wouldn’t be where he was without the park he grew up playing sports at in the town he calls home, despite being born in New Jersey.
“I’m excited for him and where he’s at,” Bracey said. “We’re just happy to know that he recognizes us that way.”
Bracey connected Arians and York College early in 2020, and Tampa Bay’s coach was set to give the commencement address to the Spartan seniors in May and receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters before the pandemic derailed the ceremony.
Arians’ family still lives in the area and will travel to Florida — on a plane sent by the Buccaneers — to cheer on the local legend as he tries to claim his third Super Bowl ring and first as a head coach.
Although Arians decided against a return to York back in 1975, Orndorff and Bupp have followed Arians’ career at each of the 14 stops it took for him to reach this moment and enjoyed watching him succeed at the sport’s highest level.
Arians’ immediate family will be in Florida with him, but many TVs in York will be tuned in Sunday to see the culmination of a 50-year football career that began in and almost never left his hometown.
“Central Pennsylvania, York is home,” Arians said. “We go back as much as we can. I can’t wait to get mom and my brothers and sisters all down here for the game. We got so many friends back in York that we played (sports) with growing up. They’re all over the place, but we stay in touch. It’s home, it’s roots.”
— Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.