Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians recently commented on the abrupt end of his tenure with the Steelers in an interview with HBO. During the interview, he was asked if he felt ‘betrayed’, to which his response was yes.
I don’t particularly care, to be honest.
I don’t care, that is, whether there is much substance to his accounting of the events, or whether or not he was wronged in some way. My greater concern is the fact that, at that moment in time, it was evident to many that it was time for the Steelers to move on from Arians.
That is not to say that Arians is not a strong offensive mind, and in fact his offenses have been rather successful since he has left the Steelers. I find it almost amazing that Carson Palmer was only sacked 25 times last year—although he was sacked 41 times in 2013.
Arians was hired by the Steelers to serve as wide receivers coach in 2004 after three years in Cleveland as the offensive coordinator. In 2007, he was promoted to offensive coordinator after Ken Whisenhunt was hired, coincidentally, to coach the Cardinals, and Arians remained in that role until his contract was not renewed following the 2011 season.
It seemed an appropriate time to part company, as it felt as though he took the offense as far as it was capable of going. Mike Wallace, of course, flourished under his deep passing attack, but the offense as a whole struggled to retain cohesion in the red zone and was highly sporadic as a rushing offense.
It would be disingenuous not to point out that the offensive line has come a long way in the past five years, though three of the five primary players remain the same, and obvious the improvement of the offensive line has gone a long way toward delivering the offense that we see today that openly challenges the 30 points per game mark.
Arians talked about his closeness with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as an element in the team’s desire to let him go, and the beat writers also talked about this element at the time of his ‘retirement’. I believe it was a genuine concern, and that the ‘shock’ of the transition to another system delivered to Roethlisberger exactly what he needed to continue to grow.
The veteran quarterback has been playing some of the best football of his career in the past few years, particularly over the last two as he has continually grown more and more comfortable of an offensive system that he has taken more ownership of, and obviously that has had a big impact on its overall success.
Perhaps Haley’s offense has more talent to work with, but Arians’ problem is that he didn’t adjust to the talent that he had available to them, and that stunted the team’s ability to develop into a multifaceted unit that could respond to a variety of circumstances. He now has in Arizona what works for his coaching style, and he has proven to be very good at it. And the Steelers are fine with where they are now, so the parting was mutually beneficial, perhaps even mutually necessary. But the broader point is that it was timely, to avoid developmental stagnation.