Bruce Arians is the latest candidate to interview for the Arizona Cardinals vacant head coaching job, and could very well be the last. The Cardinals are the only NFL team remaining without a head coach, and seemingly have their pick of anyone they would want. However, the Cardinals may already have a favorite from amongst already interviewed candidates.
Several coaches have interviewed with the team, and at least one other has been rumored, though not officially confirmed.
The teams defensive coordinator Ray Horton was the first coach to be interviewed, and even got a lengthy second interview to hammer out specifics shortly thereafter. But as interviews have continued to be scheduled with other Candidates, many now feel that Horton is noe, at best, a long shot. Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator and Phoenix native Darrell Bevell and now Arians have all had confirmed interviews with the team, and rumors continue to circulate that current Pittsburgh Steelers and former Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley secretly met with the team as well.
For all five men, the Cardinals remain their only option if they hope to be an NFL head coach in 2012. And many now believe that Bruce Arians may hold the inside track for this final position.
In the post interview press conference, Arians was witty, candid, upbeat and appeared very well informed about the job.
He admitted that the Indianapolis Colts were a great organization to work for, and he would be happy to reman there as an offensive coordinator, adding that he would rather have his Super Bowl rings as an assistant than just any head coaching job. He insisted that he had numerous offers for his services, but would only consider leaving the Colts if he had a "heck of a feeling about that organization, owner, general manager, team." When asked the obvious follow up question, whether he felt that way about the Cardinals, his response was a clear and emphatic "Yes I do".
Arians' answers throughout were full of confidence about his prospects, even if he was much more subtle about it than Horton. Arians regularly referred to the the Cardinals team, owners and management as "We" not "they" as both Bevell and Gruden had done before him. He spoke of what they "will" do to improve the team, not would or could. He even at one point referred to his position at the Colts in the past tense, using the phrase "what we did" not "what we do".
To open the interview, he spoke of having been excited about the Cardinals interview for a very long time, in spite of the fact that permission was only officially sought to speak to him a matter of days ago, implying that perhaps prior informal conversations had already taken place.
While I would not go as far as to suggest that the Cardinals have already offered him the job, and he even admitted as much during the press conference, Arians clearly expressed a level of confidence about the process lacking from some previous candidates. It seems as though Arians is already beginning to visualize himself as the Cardinals head coach, given the language he used.
The only possible hang ups may be his hesitance to work with Ray Horton, whom the Cardinals have made no secret about wanting to keep in some capacity, and the level of control he may wish to exert over play calling.
Rumors had spread in advance of his interview that if hired Arians would not wish to keep Horton on board as defensive coordinator. indeed some even believed he had already promised a position to Todd Bowles—who was previously a candidate for the position before Horton was hired.
Though many insiders have denied this, when addressed specifically on the matter during the press conference, Arians was decidedly noncommittal. He deflected the question by simply saying that it was "too early in the process" to make specific comments on any coaches under contract.
It is, of course, technically true that it would be entirely inappropriate to dismiss a coach before being offered the job. His answer nonetheless felt out of place amongst the otherwise confident, forthright and candid discussion which took place. It would not have hurt at all to say "I would like to try and keep the successful defensive staff together if possible", if he intended to keep him, meaning the only reason for such an answer is as a rather veiled way of saying "don't hold your breath".
Arians was also very clear on the fact that, although he would hire an offensive coordinator, it would be himself who would be calling the plays on the day, until he found someone better at it than him, adding "I haven't found him yet".
While many would like this sort of confidence, there is no denying that this philosophy failed Ken Whisenhunt on multiple occasions, and the desire for a top tier offensive coordinator appeared high on the list of the Cardinals priorities.
Nonetheless, both of these problems are easily overcome if the team were convinced by Arians' overall pitch to them. And given his recent success, there is no reason to think that they wouldn't be.
The clock has effectively stopped for the Cardinals, so don't assume a decision will follow too quickly—though it may. Qith no other teams in contention, the team can afford to take their time to make their final decision, and may even wish to take a look at some of the Super Bowl bound assistant's too. However, if initial impressions are anything to go by, expect Bruce Arians to be a very strong candidate going forward.