(Update: 1:15 PM PST — As of now, the report that Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals are parting ways is still just a rumor, and Arians has denied it, calling it “Fake news.”)
Since being hired by the Arizona Cardinals in 2013, Bruce Arians has gone 3-5-1 against the Seattle Seahawks, the team he was essentially hired to topple. Arians succeeded at that in 2015, going 13-3 and winning the NFC West, but just two years after appearing in the NFC Championship game, his time with the Cardinals is just about done.
Bruce Arians, a two-time NFL Coach of the Year who is just less than two seasons removed from taking the Arizona Cardinals to the NFC title game, will agree to part ways with the Cardinals next week, multiple sources tell Hub Arkush of Pro Football Weekly.— Michael Lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) December 26, 2017
For the better part of the 2013-2015 seasons, we heard a lot of people claim that Arians was a more astute head coach than Pete Carroll. That Arizona had less to work with, were more exciting, and that they were building a better defense. With players like Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, David Johnson, the Cardinals were young, flashy, efficient, and scary; and Arians took them from five wins in the season before he arrived, to 10, 11, and then 13 wins in three successive seasons after. They only seemed to be getting better.
Then Arians, who waited until he was 61 before he got his first official head coaching and is now 1-2 in the playoffs in his career, saw his team get blown out 49-15 by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship. In the third week of the following season, Carson Palmer, an MVP candidate in 2015, threw four interceptions in a blowout loss to the Bills.
Palmer, who turns 38 on Wednesday, has thrown 30 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, and has a rating of 84 in his last 20 games. It’s quite possible that the loss to the Panthers (another game in which Palmer threw four interceptions) was essentially the end of his career, and with that, Arians was doomed unless Arizona could find another franchise quarterback soon. Instead, it seemed like everyone fell for the idea that Arians is a “QB Whisperer” who can turn anyone into a success at the position, ignoring the fact that he’d only been successful with number one picks like Palmer, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning.
In 2016, they passed on players like Jacoby Brissett, Cody Kessler, and Dak Prescott, opting to stick with Drew Stanton as the backup. In 2017, they saw the Texans trade up over them to select Deshaun Watson, and the Chiefs move up over them to take Patrick Mahomes, opting to stick with Stanton and Blaine Gabbert as the backups. The 37-year-old Palmer unsurprisingly got injured after seven games, turning it over to Gabbert for five starts, and Stanton for three.
And with the Seahawks’ season on the line as the host the Cardinals on Sunday, it’ll be Stanton starting Arians’ likely final game as an NFL head coach, trying to help the 7-8 Cards finish with a .500 record.
With nothing left to lose, Arians knows that he’s got more than a team on life support trying to play spoiler. Arizona is coming off of a 23-0 shutout win over the Giants, and two weeks before that won 12-7 against the Titans. They also notched a 27-24 win over the Jaguars, a team that Seattle could not beat a few weeks ago. Luckily for the Seahawks, the Cardinals are among the worst road teams in the league, going 2-5 away from Phoenix compared to 5-3 at home; one of those losses was 22-16 to Seattle. The other thing that could be a big barrier between Arians and a victorious career finale (at 65, I see it hard for Arians to try rebuilding a franchise again) is the loss of left tackle Jared Veldheer. If Arizona can’t protect the backup they should’ve replaced with an upside player at least two years ago, then it’ll be harder for them to score offensively. Instead, the “QB Whisperer” will be looking to turn towards the defense to help him get his 50th career victory.
And then it’ll be done and pretty soon the NFC West will have another new head coach, leaving Carroll as the only guy in the division to be here prior to 2016. Who knows who’ll still be around by 2019, these things can go well or go south very quickly.