PHOENIX -- A year of practicing as a head coach didn't necessarily make Bruce Arians perfect in the two years he has been coaching the Arizona Cardinals, but it made him good enough to be named the NFL's best coach for a second time.
Arians was named coach of the year Saturday night at the "NFL Honors" show in downtown Phoenix, becoming the first coach in league history to win the award multiple times in a three-year span with different teams. He won in 2012 for going 9-3 and leading the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs as interim coach while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia.
But this year elicited a different feeling from Arians than the "surreal" 2012 season.
That was his "practice" year. He never felt he was truly the Colts' head coach, just that he was making sure Indianapolis didn't veer off track while Pagano battled and recovered. Learning how to deal with injuries by inserting players into the lineup on a Sunday after signing them on a Tuesday, figuring out how to delegate on the NFL level and seeing he had what it took to win as a head coach after years of being passed over made this year's award all the sweeter for Arians.
"There's no doubt," Arians said. "No doubt. The other one was just magical, that season. But this was one that you never got bored because you had to come to work every Monday and start over again."
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson congratulated his coach on the honor:
Arians' Cardinals finished 11-5, their best record since 1975, despite 21 players missing a combined 109 games because of injuries, including his starting quarterback, running back, defensive tackle, two outside linebackers and punter.
Arizona used four quarterbacks this season, starting three of them, before losing to the Carolina Panthers in an NFC wild-card game, the first time since 2009 Arizona went to the postseason.
"Injuries are going to happen," Arians said. "And you can never allow anything to be an excuse. We just don't allow that to happen.
"They were able to be resilient. Every injury that occurred, they looked [at it] as the next man's opportunity. That really makes my job extremely easy."
Arians shared credit for the award with another winner Saturday.
Former Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who was named the New York Jets' head coach earlier this month, won the inaugural assistant coach of the year award. The award wasn't presented during the televised show.
"I wouldn't be head coach of the year if it wasn't for him and the job he did," Arians said. "I was so happy that we started that award and he got it for the first time.
"And he's going to do a great job for the Jets."
The Cardinals started 9-1 and were considered by some to be the favorites to represent the NFC in Sunday's Super Bowl, which would have made them the first host team to play in the game. But injuries derailed what was shaping up as a dream season, as the Cardinals finished 2-4 and lost the NFC West lead in the final weeks.
Even the late-season collapse didn't deter voters from giving Arians the award.
He became the 11th coach to win the award multiple times and the fifth to win it twice in three seasons. His 21 wins in two seasons are the most since Don Coryell's in 1975-76 -- a span of nine different Cardinals coaches. But Arians, never one to take sole credit, said his assistant coaches worked "tirelessly" this season.
Arians also shared credit for his and the Cardinals' success in 2014 with general manager Steve Keim, calling him "the best in the business that I've ever been around," and a group of front-office executives that included Bill Polian, the former Colts general manager and president who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Keim, who along with Cardinals president Michael Bidwill hired Arians in 2013, said Arians' "infectious personality" and "command of the room" during his interview two years ago was what helped sway the Cardinals' decision to hire him instead of one of the eight or nine other candidates. And after more than 20 wins, a playoff berth and another coach of the year award for Arians, he's looking like the right choice.
"The fact that he has the ability to hold players accountable and at the end of the day they all love him and want to play harder for him," Keim said. "And, to me, that's just a special trait that not many coaches have."