University President Peter Liacouras wanted a change. When it came to change, Peter’s moves were hardly mainstream.
The year before he fired popular basketball coach Don Casey replacing him with Cheyney State coach John Chaney. All Chaney did was go on to five Elite 8’s in the NCAA tourney and a spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
The football hire would be no different. Liacouras replaced his Hall of Famer, Hardin, with a totally unproven Bruce Arians, a 30-year-old who had just completed his 2nd year as the running backs coach at Alabama under another legend, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.
“Coach Bryant told him [Liacouras] that I could move the ball and that I was a winner,” Arians said. “That’s pretty much all it took.”
The new young coach and the veteran college administrator shared a vision for Temple football. No risk it, no biscuit.
“It was let’s go to the top,” Arians recalled. “Miami did it with Howard Schnellenberger. We tried to pattern everything they did. We played Florida, Florida State, Alabama and BYU when they were number one. For us to become the best we had to play the best.”
When it came to recruiting, Bryant gave the newly minted head coach some sound advice.
“He said ‘You can drive two hours and see more players than I can drive ten hours and see.’” Arians said. “Between Washington, New York and Philly it was just finding the right guys. We actually recruited Pittsburgh like it was out of state.”
It didn’t take long to land some good ones. Especially an under the radar running back from suburban Washington, DC, named Paul Palmer.
“I asked my high school coach, ‘Where is Temple?’” Palmer said. “I had never been to Philadelphia. It was my only visit. My first year in training camp I was fumbling the ball all over the place. Coach said, ‘Son, if you can hold onto the ball, you could become the best running back who ever played here.’”
He was right. Palmer would go on to have himself a Hall of Fame career, finishing as Temple’s all-time leading rusher, runner-up for the 1986 Heisman Trophy, and a first-round pick of the Chiefs. In his Senior year of ‘86, he rushed for 1,866 yards including 349 against East Carolina.
“Best pound for pound football player I ever coached,” Arians said. “That ECU game was incredible. They knew he was getting the ball and couldn’t stop him.”
It was amazing what Arians, Palmer and other players like Todd Bowles, Kevin Ross, and All American offensive lineman John Reinstra could accomplish. Temple in those days was as far from state of the art football facilities as you could get. Meetings with players were held on stairways in the bowels of McGonigle Hall.
By 1988 and two straight losing seasons, the job was starting to take a toll on Arians. Both physically and mentally. The biscuit was getting stale.
Liacouras went hunting again. Jerry Berndt, who had enjoyed Ivy League success at Penn, was brought on to replace Arians.
But it didn’t take long for the NFL to come calling for Arians. Six different teams over the next 26 years. Along the way a pair of Super Bowl titles as an assistant with the Steelers.
When Colts head coach Chuck Pagano came down with Leukemia in 2012, Arians was named interim head coach. Indy finished 11-5, 9-3 under Arians. He was voted NFL Coach of the Year. The only time an interim coach has won the honor.
In 2013, 30 years after his first head coaching job at Temple, he got another one. The Arizona Cardinals. In five years, Arizona went to the playoffs twice including 2015 when the Cardinals lost to Carolina in the NFC Championship game.
Two years later, however, he realized there were too many things, non-football related, that he had missed.
“It was good to walk away from the game,” Arians said. “Jake [his son] turned 40 and it hit me harder than anything. I just said, ‘Where did it all go?’”
This season Arians is working NFL games for CBS-TV. He’s written a book, The Quarterback Whisperer.
Still, the question begs. Could coaching be part of his unknown future?
“It would only be Cleveland,” he said. “I loved it there. The Browns and their fans deserve a winner.”
Actually had Kansas City not traded up and taken Patrick Mahomes before Arizona had the chance two years ago, he may still be coaching.
“Mahomes was my guy,” Arians admits. “He is Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck smart.”
After two scares with cancer (prostate and kidney) and at 67 years old, Arians and wife Chris have sold their home in the Phoenix area and moved to a Georgia golf community.
And whether it’s football, golf or broadcasting his mantra stays the same: “No risk it, no biscuit.”
Somewhere, Peter Liacouras has a big smile on his face.