Bruce Arians might not have come out of nowhere to win the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year Award, but he is the first to do it as an interim coach and the first with a 0-0 record. It was a most unusual year.
Over the 12 weeks Arians toiled as interim coach during coach Chuck Pagano’s absence for leukemia treatment, the Indianapolis Colts went 9-3. The wins and losses went to Pagano, the coach of record. The satisfaction of carrying on for his friend went to Arians, the loyal lieutenant, who Saturday night ran away with the Coach of the Year Award, which will be presented tonight on the “Second Annual NFL Honors” show on NFL Network.
Arians, who since has become Arizona Cardinals head coach, got 36 1/2 votes from a media panel of 50 who regularly cover the NFL. Pagano was second with 5 1/2, followed by the Seattle Seahawks Pete Carroll with 5.
Washington quarterback Russell Griffin III took the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award with a 29-vote total. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was second with 11 votes, followed by Seattle’s Russell Wilson with 10.
“It was pretty tough when coach Pagano went down but coach Arians stepping in and lifting us up and having us rally behind coach Pagano was very inspirational,” Luck said. “It was emotional a lot of the time.
“I’m just proud to be part of the Colts this past season.”
The first call Pagano made after being hired as Colts coach on Jan. 25 was to his old friend, Arians, who signed on as offensive coordinator within the week.
Arians was preparing to return from a bye week break when late the night of Sept. 30, he received a very different call from Pagano. The head coach had been diagnosed with leukemia. He was taking an indefinite leave of absence to undergo treatment.
At 8 a.m. the next morning, Arians stood in front of the players and coaches, told them of the crisis and announced that he was interim coach while continuing with his coordinator duties. And as Colts general manager Ryan Grigson recalled, he told them one other thing.
“The reason he most deserves this award, besides his selflessness,” Grigson said, “is that he said from the beginning – I mean when people were saying, ‘Whoa. What are you saying here, Bruce? You’re way out there with this,’ he said we are going to extend this season so Chuck can come back and coach.
“He saw that. That was his vision. He planted that seed in everyone’s mind, including mine, and it really grew and wound up coming to fruition.”
Arians matched the NFL record for an interim coach by leading the Colts to nine victories. He oversaw the guts of a season that yielded a nine-game improvement, from 2-14 to 11-5, and matched the third-best turnaround in NFL history.
The Colts made the playoffs and Pagano was back to coach his team in its final two games.
The award wasn’t Arian’s only recognition. He earlier had been named Sporting News NFL Coordinator of the Year.