Arians returns to head coaching roots

TEMPE, Ariz. – By now, 25 years after Bruce Arians was fired by Temple University, the streets around Philadelphia are paved.

But he's known that. Arians has returned to City of Brotherly Love before as a coach, but never like this. Never as a head coach. The last time he owned that title was at Temple, a campus located six miles from Lincoln Financial Field, where Arians will lead the Arizona Cardinals against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

A lot has happened since then. He lost his hair. He jumped to the NFL. He won a Super Bowl. And, at age 61, he finally became a head coach.

But while a lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same.

Lee Roberts, Temple's assistant athletic director for facilities and event management, was Arian's director of football operations at Temple. Roberts started the same year as Arians, and the man he remembers is basically the same man Arians is today.

He cared about his players on more than just a superficial level. He got to know them as more than just players. He treated his staff well. Without any context, that describes Arians as the Cardinals' head man.

But times were different back then. Temple wasn't a high-profile program but they brought on a sexy-new hire in 1983, an assistant from Alabama, a Bear Bryant disciple. But Arians quickly showed the side that's made him a player's coach. He made sure his players were taken care of despite not having the luxuries of college football in the 1980s.

One season, Arians wanted his players to wear a sport coat and tie when the team traveled, as he does with the Cardinals. But Arians found out not all his players could afford either a tie or jacket, so he went to the apparel company who made Temple's shoes and ordered sweatsuits for the team. And that's how the Owls traveled for the rest of the season.

"The biggest thing about Bruce was he understood the kids," Roberts said. "He cared about the kids, he cared about the staff."

While Arians protected his players, he wanted to take on the country.

As an independent under Arians from 1983 to 1988, Temple played the likes of Miami, Georgia, Syracuse, Boston College, Florida State, BYU, Penn State, Alabama, Virginia Tech and Alabama. He wasn't afraid of playing anybody, but Temple didn't have the talent to compete. He went 27-34 in six seasons before the NCAA adjusted his record to 22-39 because a star running back signed with an agent before his eligibility expired, according to reports.

"We weren't the most gifted teams in terms of athletically. We didn't get all the top-notch kids but the one thing that he demanded was that the kids played hard," Roberts said. "When we recruited we would go after the top kids and we didn't get the top kids. It was a combination of facilities and we didn't have the winning tradition. We got the kids, who, if he was an inch taller, he'd be at a bigger, better school. But since he was an inch shorter, we got him.

"[They had] great motors but weren't always the most physically-gifted kids."

Arians would tell his players, if they were scared to play, they had to tell him so he could find players who weren't scared.

"We were pretty physical," Roberts added. "We didn't win a lot of games against some of the bigger opponents, but we played hard and we played them tough."

Sounds about right for an Arians' team.

Temple was also where Arians learned the most important lesson of his coaching career: He can't do it all himself. When he started at Temple, he hired a young staff and questioned their ability to complete daily tasks. But Arians had the responsibilities that came with his title: news conferences, recruiting and dealing with players.

Roberts remembered Arians just didn't know how to be a head coach.

It finally caught up with him in his final season. With Arians on the hot seat, he said he was in the hospital seven times in 1988 because of stress-induced illnesses, including migraines. Roberts recalled the headaches forcing Arians to his hotel suite on the road as soon as the team arrived.

"When I was 36 I felt like I was about 86," Arians said. "Stress will do funny things to you. I had a bunch of migraines every week, and I got fired and never had another one in my life.

"I tried to do too much. The one thing that I learned was that if I ever got a job again, and it took a little while, but I would learn to delegate. I was the head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, recruiting coordinator, I had my hands on the defense and special teams, so I was trying to do everything and I felt as if it was my job. I've learned to let other people do their jobs and they're more than qualified to do them and relax."

The general sentiment around Temple is that Arians' tenure was still a success, despite a losing record. He was well liked by the administration, his coaches and his players. Two former players, Todd Bowles and Kevin Ross, are now coaching with him in Arizona.

Arizona will practice at Temple on Saturday and it'll give Arians a chance to reminisce. He'll find pictures of him with hair, he'll see old friends and check out the paved roads.

He'll return to where he first tasted life as a head coach, where he experienced the trials and tribulations, the highs and the lows, the emotion and the ecstasy that comes with it. Arians thought it'd happen again, but it took him 25 years to return to that place. This weekend, he'll take a look back while he keeps on moving forward.

"A lot of people would say he took too long," Roberts said. "I think Bruce did it in his time frame. I think Bruce was happy coaching the guys that he coached.

"I think coming back, he's from York [Penn.] so it always feels good to come home and you feel like you've done something and being the had coach and having some success, I think he feels good."