Colts helped Arians prepare to lead Cards

TEMPE, Ariz. -- There wasn't a manual on how to be an interim coach.

There wasn't a playbook or film for Bruce Arians to study last year when Chuck Pagano called to tell him the news. Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and would be leaving the Indianapolis Colts. He handed the keys to Arians and began fighting for his life.

Arians, meanwhile, didn't even have so much as a flip card to guide him through what was about to happen.

In less than a day, Arians went from being the mastermind of the Colts' offense to overseeing all three phases of a team for the first time in his NFL career. Until then, the only time he spent talking to the defense was to razz them after his offense had a big play. But after 12 weeks, it ended up being the best on-the-job training he could have asked for and it's been paying off for him ever since the Arizona Cardinals hired him in January.

"It feels very easy. It really does," Arians said. "I don't feel any different than I have in years past, as a head coach. I've really enjoyed the camaraderie and getting to know the defense and special-teams players more than I have in the past."

His stint in Indianapolis showed Arians what it takes to be a head coach, what the grind is like, what kind of dedication it takes. He realized quickly he couldn't do it on his own.

"I've learned to delegate much better, not try to do it all myself," Arians said about being a head coach in Arizona. "That's helped me personally. I think it's helped us. The staff is so good that I don't have to.

"It's real hard for me to try not to do everything."

But offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who was with Arians in Indianapolis, said his boss started delegating last season and it carried over to Arizona.

"If you hired us, that means you like us, you trust us, you believe in what we can do as coaches," Goodwin said. "And he's done that so far."

Arians hasn't penned a literal guide to being an interim coach, but he's apparently written the book. After Jack Del Rio took over for John Fox as interim coach of the Denver Broncos a couple of weeks ago, he called Arians for advice. Del Rio bounced some ideas off Arians, who simply affirmed that he was doing the right thing.

Unlike Arians, however, Del Rio has head-coaching experience in the NFL, but it still doesn't prepare someone to take over on a temporary basis. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said Arians kept Indianapolis' ship sailing in the same direction Pagano wanted it and didn't stray from Pagano's message.

"We got lucky last year," Arians said. "None of us knew what we were doing last year. We were just doing the best that we could, and it was successful. If people want to use it as a model, so be it."

For as much as he learned what to do, Arians also learned what not to do.

He hasn't changed his approach as a coach. He'll still tell players how it is, and if they don't like it, tough. Players, Arians said, can see right through the sugarcoating. He adopted honesty as his policy with players a while ago and never wavered.

When Pagano returned from his treatment, he found the same old Arians. Being a head coach didn't get the best of him.

"I haven't seen one change," Pagano said. "One of the best qualities about Bruce is he's true to himself. He is who he is, and he has never wavered or never changed his approach to football, to life and to coaching. I don't think that's ever changed."

At 61, it may not ever.

Arians has reflected on his time in Indianapolis and gets caught. He knows without it he most likely would never have been a head coach in the NFL. But the only way it happened was because Pagano got sick.

Good came out of bad, but nobody wanted bad to happen.

Arians can't change the past. He's just enjoying the ride. But it's been a little less stressful this time around.

"Oh, so much easier having an offseason to prepare rather than 24 hours -- less than 24 hours," Arians said. "Last year was so surreal. And every day was a dramatic day with a lot of things that went on. This is football. This is easy. There's no one's health at risk.

"This is a veteran team with a lot of young guys who are starting to step up also trying to do something special because every year's different and we want to do something special this year."

Spoken like Arians has been there before.