We flat-out rebelled when Jim Caldwell stuck to the same approach, even as the team imploded around him.
We wanted somebody with an aggressive mindset, somebody willing to take chances, somebody who preferred to force the action rather than letting the game come to him.
Now that we’ve got him – or, more to the point, them – we’d better be ready to accept the inevitable consequences.
As Chuck Pagano’s right-hand man, Bruce Arians has done a remarkable job filling in while his boss, friend and mentor battles leukemia. It’s an unforgiving challenge, doing another man’s job while staying true to yourself, but Arians is managing nicely.
“I think he understands Chuck’s message, Chuck’s way of doing things, better than any of us,” said Andrew Luck, “and he does a great job of continuing that — the horseshoe, trust, loyalty, respect — sort of the hard-nosed style that Coach Pagano wants.
“I think B.A. understands that very well and does a good job of maybe in his own words making sure we understand it. It’s not going to be the same exact verbiage Coach Pagano would use or the same mannerisms but I think it’s the same message. He has a great feel for that and does a great job of making sure we understand it.”
The Colts have won three of four heading into Sunday’s surprise showdown with the Dolphins as Arians has stamped the team very quickly with his own bold, occasionally risky approach.
Which is to say good, ol’ B.A. is precisely the kind of gunslinger we’ve quietly (or maybe not so much) craved.
“I play golf the same way: No risk-it, no biscuit,” Arians said. “I’m never going to lay up. I hit a lot of balls in the water. But that’s just who I am and who I always have been. We play to win, all-out, and try to live every day that way.”
So far, Arians has found the green on most of his shots.
Against Tennessee, for example, with enough time to take the chip-shot field goal and play the clock for one final possession in the fourth quarter, he went for it on fourth down, the Colts converted and went on to score the game-tying touchdown. He then opted to take possession rather than play the forceful wind when winning the overtime coin flip and that, too, paid off as the Colts marched for the winning score.
The players have responded positively to Arians’ style.
“You feel like you’re invincible in a way, no one can stop us no matter what it is, fourth-and-six, fourth-and-eight, let’s go for it, we can get it,” said Dwight Freeney. “You have to have that mentality. Having a coach that makes gutsy calls and says, ‘screw it, let’s go do this thing, who cares if it’s not the right thing to call, let’s take a chance,’ it motivates guys.”
But there’s a reason football tends to be a game played aggressively but coached conservatively. The risk frequently is seen to outweigh the potential reward.
And Arians has taken some risks that haven’t paid.
>> Against Green Bay, he picked up a 15-yard penalty for challenging a Packers touchdown. Because scoring plays automatically are reviewed, it is a personal foul to throw the challenge flag. Arians later said he knew it would be a penalty but since it would be marked on the ensuing kickoff, it wouldn’t hurt the team because the kick likely would result in a touchback, anyway. Still, an odd way to get the officials’ attention.
>> Against Cleveland, with time about to expire in the first half, he called a timeout with one second remaining, mystifying most everyone in Lucas Oil Stadium. The TV cameras caught him on the sidelines appearing to say something along the lines of “make ‘em punt the brother-trucker” (or words to that effect). The Browns lined up to punt, but the Colts had 12 men on the field, a penalty that pushed the ball to the Cleveland 46. The Browns then opted for a Hail Mary that fell incomplete, but that could’ve been a costly – and truly pointless — gamble.
>> Against Tennessee, the Colts had the ball on their own 21-yard line with 26 seconds left in a tie game. Rather than taking a knee and playing for overtime, Arians called for a middle-of-the-field pass to rookie tight end Dwayne Allen, who lost the ball. Only a charitable ruling by the officials – who ruled Allen down by forward progress, both giving the Colts possession and eliminating the possibility of a booth review – saved the Colts. That was a risk that could’ve cost the game. “I think it was a damn good call,” Arians said Monday. “I’m sure (Titans coach) Mike (Munchak)’s not thinking that today.”
But what happens, one of these days, when Arians inevitably pounds one into the water?
I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to give a few mulligans.