Bruce Arians returned to Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday for the first time since he left the Colts to take his first NFL head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals. Arians is in Indianapolis to evaluate draft prospects for the NFL Scouting Combine. He took a moment to reminisce this morning.
"As soon as I drove up in the parking lot, I had to sit in the car for a minute," said Arians. "It was an unusual year - a lot of great memories that will never be forgotten. Relationships that happened in this building are very special."
Arians, the Colts offensive coordinator last season, took over as interim head coach of the Colts in late September, when his friend Chuck Pagano began treatment for leukemia. Arians led the Colts to a 9-3 record during Pagano's absence.
"The biggest thing from last year is I watched a dear friend get healthy," said Arians. "Football was a backseat to watching Chuck fight that fight and win. Chuck was fighting that fight, why couldn't we fight and win games. That was the only message we had the entire season. It was an amazing, emotional ride."
Arians hopes to spend some time with Pagano while in Indianapolis this weekend. With his leukemia in remission, Pagano returned to the Colts at the end of the regular season and led the team in a playoff loss at Baltimore. Ironically, it was Arians who spent that playoff game in a Baltimore hospital because of an inner-ear infection. He fell ill at the team hotel the morning of the game. Arians missed his first game in 37 years of coaching.
"I was sitting there eating breakfast and the next thing I knew the room was spinning," recalls Arians. "It was scary. But it was good to find out there wasn't anything wrong and I'm really healthy. But to miss that game after the season we just had was kind of crazy."
Just a few days after he recovered from the inner-ear infection, the 60-year-old Arians interviewed with the Cardinals and was hired for his first NFL head coaching job.
"It had to be the right fit to leave Indianapolis because I had the greatest job in the world here," said Arians.
The Colts replaced Arians as offensive coordinator with Pep Hamilton, who served as offensive coordinator at Stanford while quarterback Andrew Luck was there. Hamilton runs a west coast offense.
"I think that was probably a natural fit for Andrew to have him go back to his old offense,' said Arians. "Now it's going to be tough on those other young guys to learn another one."