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INDIANAPOLIS – Bruce Arians strolled back into Lucas Oil Stadium, the launching pad for his current gig as Arizona Cardinals head coach, and felt the rush of memories.
“It'll be harder when I get out there on the field,” Arians said during a news conference at the NFL Combine. “It's a great feeling to come back, and the memories of this past season are just tremendous.”
Arians, of course, stepped in as Indianapolis Colts interim coach when Chuck Pagano was out fighting leukemia. Pagano won the battle and returned to coach at the end of the season.
Arians directed the Colts to a 9-3 mark in his 12 games at the helm. His success landed him his first head-coaching job at season's end.
“The biggest thing last year was watching a dear friend get healthy,” Arians said. “Football took a backseat the whole time to watching Chuck fight that fight and win. It just so happened everybody in the country joined that fight.”
Pagano left the team to undergo treatment in late September and returned to the sidelines for the Colts' final home win over the Houston Texans and playoff loss at Baltimore.
Arians missed the Baltimore game because of an inner ear infection, which came upon him that morning and put him in the hospital and under doctors' care for three days. He's completely healthy now.
“Once they let me watch that game (in the hospital), there was no way they were getting my blood pressure down,” Arians said. “It is still so so surreal. It was the first time I'd missed anything in 37 years. It's crazy, eating breakfast and the next thing you know the room's spinning.
“Scary, but good to find out there was nothing to worry about. I'm very healthy. To miss that game after the season we just had, was kind of crazy.”
Arians and the Cardinals will be evaluating a number of positions, including quarterback, during the combine. Interviews and medical exams began Thursday and the players will run on-field drills and testing beginning Saturday
The chance to coach Andrew Luck was one of the reasons Arians accepted the offensive coordinator position with the Colts last season. He doesn't have a quarterback with Luck's potential on the Cardinals' roster.
Whether the Cardinals will consider drafting a quarterback remains to be seen.
“There are a number of them out there,” Arians said. “Whether there's the extremely elite guy remains to be seen. Is there an Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger? That's to be found out in the next month.”
Speaking of Luck, Arians said he wasn't surprised to learn the Colts had hired Pep Hamilton as offensive coordinator and would be switching to a “West Coast” type of offense.
“That was probably a natural fit for Andrew to have him go back to his old offense,” Arians said. “Now it's going to be tough on those other young guys to learn another offense. But I could see where that would be a decision made.”
Arians, meanwhile, hired former Colts offense coordinator Tom Moore as part of his Arizona staff.
“Tom is one of the greatest teachers I've ever known,” Arians said. “He has a way of taking something and simplifying it.”
Arians has talked with Pagano since returning to Indianapolis and hopes to spend a little more time with him before the weekend is over.
He called last season with the Colts an “amazing, emotional ride the entire time.”
“We left that light on (in Pagano's office) for a reason,” Arians said. “It signified the fight was going on and we had to fight every day to extend that season and play until he could come back.”