INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bruce Arians always wanted to coach his own NFL team.
The chance has arrived, and not how he wanted it to go. He will be replacing an old friend on an interim basis in the middle of a season because of a serious illness. The longtime NFL offensive coordinator has no illusions about the job as he tries to help the Colts get better while everyone hopes coach Chuck Pagano returns soon from leukemia treatments.
"This isn't a head coaching job for me right now," Arians said after being named Indy's interim coach Monday. "It's just an expanded role as coordinator until Chuck comes back."
Arians was an obvious choice.
The Colts' front office followed Pagano's advice and hired Arians, an assistant who had coached with or against Pagano for the better part of a decade. He's someone who mentored three quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall (Peyton Manning, Tim Couch and now Andrew Luck) and has the same kind of personality that hooked the Colts on Pagano.
Team owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson also liked his previous experience in Indy and his resume.
Arians also played a key role in the development of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and won two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers — one as the receivers coach, the other as offensive coordinator — before his forced retirement earlier this year. He spent two seasons as Paul "Bear" Bryant's running backs coach at Alabama and six seasons as Temple's head coach.
"He's a veteran. He knows this game well. He has a great synergy with the staff and with Chuck," Grigson said. "He's going to be able to bridge that gap between Chuck and himself and this team because they (the assistants) have a brotherhood on that staff like I've never seen. Chuck's our brother, and we are all here for him. Bruce is the man to lead us forward while our leader is down."
Arians understands this peculiar predicament better than most.
In two decades as an NFL assistant, Arians has seen and done just about everything. And five years ago, Arians was the one being diagnosed with cancer. He needed a radical prostatectomy just before the NFL draft.
"That phone call is not a fun one," Arians recalled. "I was sitting in my office and they kept telling me there's nothing wrong, nothing wrong and then the doctor calls and tell you you've got cancer. You really don't remember the next 24 hours. ... I'll tell you I could hardly drive home. It's devastating to get that message. Then you figure out, like we always do, what's the plan."
The plan in Indy is to let Arians call the shots temporarily.