Former Hokies are not strangers to NFL playoff appearances or even victories. Antonio Freeman, Kam Chancellor, Bruce Smith… these are names that football fans of the world know. Virginia Tech players showing up in the post season is nothing odd, but there has never been a Virginia Tech alum, NFL head coach that has made it as far as an NFL conference championship. Bruce Arians is the first VPI alumnus to make it as a NFL head coach to a conference championship game. Let’s take a step back and look at how the two time NFL Coach of the Year got to where he is today.
Bruce Arians grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before attending Virginia Tech. From 1972 through 1974 Arians played quarterback for the Hokies. In 1974 he was named the starting quarterback and achieved his greatest personal success. In 11 games he went 53 – 118, 952 yards, three touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Although the passing statistics are pedestrian his rushing statistics are more respectable. On the ground Bruce racked up 243 yards and 11 TDs. On the team he was number two in rushing yards and number one in TDs. Even though VPI was only able to amass a record of 4-7 in 1974 Bruce Arians started on a football path that would lead him to greatness.
In 1975 Mr. Arians began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater. After his time at Virginia Tech Bruce moved on to Mississippi State University as the running backs and wide receivers coach. In 1981 he went on to coach RBs at Alabama under legend, Bear Bryant. Then, in 1983 Arians had his first chance as a head coach when the Temple Owls hired him as their HC where he remained until 1988.
After Temple Bruce Arians made his first move up to the NFL when he became the RBs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. At this point Arians bounced back and forth between the NCAA and NFL. He spent time with Mississippi State and Alabama as their offensive coordinator, and with the New Orleans Saints as their tight ends coach.
In 1998 Bruce Arians took the job of being the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterbacks coach. This happened to be the same year that the Colts drafted Tennessee QB, Peyton Manning. Arians was Manning’s first QB coach until he was hired away to the Cleveland Browns as their OC in 2001. In 2003 the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Arians as their WR coach. In 2007 he was elevated to the position of Offensive Coordinator until he was hired, again, by the Colts in 2012, as their OC. This was a turning point in Arians career. When Check Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 Arians was named the interim head coach. During his time as interim HC Arians led the colts to a 9-3 record. Indy finished their season at 11-5, which was one of the greatest single season turn arounds in NFL history as the 2011 Colts when 2-14. After his 2012 performance Arians was named the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year. As it stands now he is the first and only interim coach to ever receive the honor.
It was no surprise that after such a performance as an interim coach other franchises were interested in offering the opportunity to become a full time HC. In 2013 Mr. Arians took the job as the Arizona Cardinals head coach. In his inaugural season he led the Cards to a 10-6 record where he collected respectable wins, including a victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately, despite their winning season, the Cardinals would miss the playoffs.
In 2014 the Cardinals jumped out to a surprised 9-1 start, but only finished 11-5. After suffering season ending injuries to both their first and second string quarterbacks they were defeated in the wild-card round. Even though the season was cut short, Arians earned his second NFL Coach of the Year award after only his third year as a HC – interim or otherwise. Arians has never failed to improve during his time as a head coach and this season is no different. In 2015 he achieved a franchise best 13-3 record and won the NFC West division. After a well-earned bye week, the Cardinals defeated Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers in one of the most exciting playoff games in NFL history.
The game against the Carolina Panthers was brutal, and the Cardinals were eviscerated, 15-49. Regardless of the loss, Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals have shown that they will be a consistent presence in the playoffs. Arians has improved on every previous season. Based on that reality one could certainly expect that the Cards could make an appearance in Super Bowl 51. The Hokies have long known great former college players, but now they know a great NFL coach. Bruce Arians is here to stay, ladies and gentlemen, and he is a Hokie Great.