Bruce Arians has coached some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, including Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and has recently written a book, The Quarterback Whisperer: How to Build an Elite NFL Quarterback. Building an elite quarterback isn’t easy, but Arians has done it throughout his coaching career. It’s taken time, effort, and, well, a little bit of luck.
A coach can scout a player as much as he wants; until the player proves he can compete in the NFL, it’s a gamble, at least to some degree.
“You never know in the interview process,” Arians said in studio on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “You can get a pretty good feel, but that first mini-camp, you’ll know real quick. With (Andrew Luck), he was there for the rookie minicamp. He comes back and lights our defense up the first practice. I don’t think I even put this story in the book, but I came out the next day wearing black socks, black shirt, black hat, walked over to the defensive backs, walked right through them as they’re warming up. And Antoine Bethea (said), ‘What’s up with all the black, man? You going to a funeral?’ I said, ‘Yeah. y’alls. He kicked your ass yesterday. He killed every one of you.’”
Arians, 64, coached Luck during his 2012 rookie season. In 2014, Luck threw 40 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. It was the best year of his career. Since then, however, he’s regressed, throwing 46 touchdowns and 25 interceptions over his last 22 games.
Still, Brandon Tierney wonders if people have jumped off the Luck bandwagon a little too early.
“I think people jump off quarterbacks early all the time because their team doesn’t win,” Arians said. “It’s a 22-man sport. If you don’t have a defense or if your weapons or your offensive line gets hurt, (it’s tough). Andrew Luck might be – I’ve had some great ones – the best one as a rookie I’ve ever seen. And Ben won 13 in a row or something. But the things (Luck) did as a rookie were unbelievable.”
The Steelers went 15-1 in Roethlisberger’s rookie year, but Ben had the No. 1 defense in football – not to mention Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker and Hines Ward – to lean on. It took Roethlisberger a few years to truly lead an offense, especially a no-huddle one.
“It took Peyton three years. Andrew, it was three games,” Arians said. “He’s brilliant. They say he’s got a photographic memory. I don’t know what the hell it is, but I know you tell him once, and he’s got it. And his athletic ability is amazing. When you think of Peyton’s brain and Ben’s body and toughness and heart, you got Andrew. So much goes into winning. Not just one guy. He probably needed that surgery sooner than he got it.”
Arians, who has spent the last four-plus seasons in Arizona with Carson Palmer, also discussed what goes into being an NFL coach. The importance of building rapport with players cannot be understated.
“You have to have a line of communication and trust, especially as a quarterback coach, with your guy,” Arians said. “Don’t tell me what I want to hear; tell me the truth. What are you seeing? . . . You got to handle them differently. Each and every one is so different. They learn differently, they handle success and failure differently – but they better be able to handle it because they’re going to have both. They got to be able to lead men.”
Manning, for example, struggled early in his career against the Patriots. Arians said that New England’s secondary – with Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy – was “in (Manning’s) head a little bit.’”
“We had to break that,” Arians said.
Eventually, Manning did.
“You have to be able to teach,” Arians said. “Coaching is nothing but (being) a teacher. You’ve got students. They all learn differently. You have to learn how each one learns, what buttons to hit to make them want to learn what you’re teaching. You could have all the knowledge in the world, but if you can’t teach it, you can’t coach.”
Speaking of Manning’s rookie year, Arians confirmed the recent Tarik Glenn tidbit that the Colts’ offensive linemen wore hearing aids to better hear No. 18.
“That was a big thing,” Arians said. “I think the Saints might have started it when they were playing at the Dome to block out (crowd noise). It really helped to be able to hear somebody’s voice. I’m surprised people have not used them much anymore. It muffles the sound.”
As for his current quarterback, Arians expects big things from Palmer – both in 2017 and beyond.
“He can play easily until he’s 42 if he wants to,” Arians said of the 37-year-old. “He is hungry as hell right now. I wouldn’t let him go in OTAs. It was like taking candy away from a kid.”
Arians was asked which quarterback he would take if he needed to win game: Manning, Luck, Roethlisberger or Palmer.
“I’ll take any of them,” Arians said, “because we got a chance to win. I’m really lucky to be around these guys. Each one is so unique. I’ve never seen anybody throw a deep ball like Carson. (Or) Peyton (with) the rhythm stuff. Ben knocking Willie McGinest off and go in and score the wining touchdown. And then Andrew, I think the craziest think about Andrew is he throws an interception and just rifles down the field and knocks the crap out of (the defender). That’s just his mentality. He plays with a linebacker mentality, and you can’t take that out of them. They got Superman capes. You don’t want to take that out of them.”
Arians also weighed in on the NFL’s marijuana policy, which has led to suspensions for numerous players over the years.
“It’s going to be the biggest thing in the CBA,” Arians said. “I don’t think it’s a performance-enhancing drug. It’s an illegal drug in some states, so just go by the state’s laws and do it that way. It’s still going to be overused and abused by some guys, but if it affects the work place, then it’s the organization’s job (to handle it). Get them help. I don’t kick guys to the curb. I want to help. And when we suspend players in the NFL, we’re not allowed to talk to them. They lose the only structure in their life, and we send them back to the area that got them there in the first place: home. We need to have a better feeling for these guys to get them help. Don’t let them play, but let them be around practice. Let them be around game. Gives them structure in their lives.”