Former Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery fired Lovie Smith following a 10-6 season in 2012 and quickly began the search for his replacement. The search, which took more than a month, culminated in three finalists: Bruce Arians, Darrell Bevell and Marc Trestman.
Arians at the time was offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, who took over as interim head coach during Chuck Pagano’s cancer-induced absence. Pagano led the Colts to a 9-3 record during the team’s final 12 games and was named NFL Coach of the Year.
“They were the first ones to put paperwork in for me so that was the first interview I gave,” Arians said today. “I felt very comfortable. I thought it was a great organization, Phil and all the guys there, Mr. McCaskey - they were great. It was a day I felt went very well.”
Despite Arians’ pedigree and resume, Emery chose Trestman, who hadn’t coached in the NFL since 2003.
“They made a decision and I went on with it,” said Arians.
Arians went on to the Arizona Cardinals, where he quickly turned around a fledgling franchise and earned his second NFL Coach of the Year award in 2014.
After two disappointing seasons in Chicago, both Trestman and Emery were fired.
Folks in the Windy City now believe passing over Arians was the biggest mistake Emery made during his tenure and the main reason the Bears have tumbled into the basement of the NFL.
Arians is a cult legend in Chicago: the coach that got away.
On Sunday, Arians heads back to the Second City for the first time since being shunned by the club’s former GM.
The Cardinals are coming off a convincing win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, while the Bears are reeling from an opening-day loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Despite the loss, Arians felt Bears quarterback Jay Cutler played “extremely well” on Sunday and said he was impressed with Cutler during his brief stay in Chicago.
“He’s a passionate guy that wanted to win,” said Arians. “I think he gets misunderstood a lot. We spent a good hour together and I was very, very impressed with him.”
“I think just public perception. Sometimes when you care a lot your body can give different signals. Each person is different. The guy obviously cares about winning.”
Had he been named head coach in 2012, Arians said he would have built his offense around Cutler’s strengths.
“[My plan] was just to put him in our offense and see how much we can use,” Arians said. “We always tailor it to our quarterback. Everything we do is built around what he can and cannot handle. It would have been up to Jay. Jay still has to make those decisions, just like any quarterback. You can't play for them; you can only put them in position to play.”
Looking back on his experience with the Bears organization, Arians said he has no hard feelings and believes everything worked out for the best.
“There's no doubt,” he said. “Things always do.”