Indianapolis Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians before the start of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts want offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to stick around a little longer.
They also understand he wants to become an NFL head coach.
On Thursday, the Colts said Arians had been granted permission to speak with the Chicago Bears about their head coaching vacancy, though it’s unclear when the interview will take place because Indy (11-5) will face AFC North champion Baltimore (10-6) in a wild-card round game Sunday. The winner will go to either Denver or New England in the divisional round.
Chicago might not be the only team interested. There has been speculation that the San Diego Chargers want Arians, too, though the Colts haven’t confirmed whether they received an interview request from the Chargers. And with five other jobs also open, Arians could be mentioned in those cities, too.
“We do not want to lose Bruce Arians. He’s just, we know what he is and we know what he means to this organization and to this football team. So let me just say that first and foremost,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. “But you guys have seen him work over the last 12 weeks and you know him as a person and as a coach and I would just tell him that you’re getting, or if you’re interested in a guy you’re getting a guy that’s a great leader, a great football coach, a great man, and if that happened you’d be getting a great football coach.”
The Colts’ coordinators usually speak with reporters on Thursday, but Arians was not available because he was ill, a team spokesman said.
Arians has been an NFL assistant for 20 years. His only head coaching experience came during a six-year stint at Temple where he was 27-39 in the 1980s.
But this year, he moved to the top of the head coaching carousel after leading the Colts to a 9-3 record as the interim coach while Pagano battled leukemia. Arians, a prostate cancer survivor, tied the NFL record for most wins after a midseason coaching change and clinched a playoff spot with a 20-13 win at Kansas City. Pagano returned to his job the next day and later said Arians had his vote as the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year.
For the 60-year-old Arians, this promises to be a different kind of offseason than last year when he was forced out as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator and appeared headed into retirement.
Pagano, an old friend, then called and offered Arians the Colts job.
Arians has a reputation for mentoring young quarterbacks. His list includes Peyton Manning, Tim Couch and Ben Roethlisberger.
This year, under Arians’ guidance, Andrew Luck set NFL rookie records for yards passing (4,374) and attempts (627), broke Manning’s franchise record for completions (339), finished third on the NFL’s rookie list for TD passes (23) and set the franchise record for TDs rushing by a quarterback (five). Luck’s quarterback rating, 76.5, also was a franchise rookie record, breaking John Unitas’ previous mark (74.0).
When Luck was asked Wednesday what he would say if a team asked about Arians, Luck laughed and jokingly said: “Terrible things. Terrible, terrible things.”
The Bears and other teams know better.
Chicago general manager Phil Emery is looking to replace Lovie Smith who was fired Monday. Emery appears to be seeking an offensive-minded coach who can help Jay Cutler and the Bears offense become more consistent after missing the playoffs five of the past six years.
San Diego also fired its coach, Norv Turner, and general manager A.J. Smith on Monday and reportedly is interested in Tom Telesco, the Colts vice president of football operations.
Arians repeatedly told reporters this season that it had always been his dream to be an NFL head coach and that he would still be interested in the right opportunity. Arians did not specify what that meant, though he did say he would like to continue calling plays.
“That’s something I always wondered about and how feasible that would be if I ever got an opportunity (to be a head coach) because calling plays is what I love to do,” he said in December. “I think that part of it I found out is possible. I’ve never questioned the rest of it. I can deal with the media better than I thought I could.”