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'It hit me right in the face': Bruce Arians on his decision to retire, and what's next

Posted at 7:40 PM, Jan 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-21 23:26:44-05

Something was different this time.

As the 2017 NFL season got underway, Bruce Arians, who was coaching his fifth and ultimately final season for the Arizona Cardinals, began to see his job in a different way.

Specifically, the magnitude of being an NFL head coach began to weigh on the 65-year-old Arians in ways it hadn't before.

"It was a little different this year because I felt some different feelings I’d never felt on the field," Arians told ABC15's Craig Fouhy during a sit-down interview Friday. "(It was) a little more demanding maybe because I thought we had this great team that should have won until the injuries wiped us out."

Arians announced his retirement from the NFL in an emotional press conference Jan. 1, less than 24 hours after the Cardinals ended their season by going to Seattle and defeating the archrival Seahawks in dramatic fashion.

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But it turns out 2017 wasn't the first time Arians had contemplated stepping away. He considered retirement during the 2016 NFL season after taking a pair of trips to the hospital for various ailments. He was also battling cancer for the third time -- something he revealed in his book last year.

"I truly thought about it last year with the health scares," Arians said. "And no way in the world could I let cancer win, and no way in the world could I just not come back for the rest of my coaching staff and just leave them hanging."

On Oct. 22, the Cardinals lost to the Los Angeles Rams in London -- and more importantly, they lost their starting quarterback, as Carson Palmer suffered a broken arm that would sideline him for the rest of the season. Arians said he and Palmer discussed their respective NFL futures in the locker room after that game. (As fate would have it, Palmer announced his retirement one day after Arians announced his.)

Then, two and a half weeks later, the Cardinals fell to the Seahawks in a Thursday Night Football game in Glendale. After the game, Arians had a conversation with his wife Chris and their children.

"We talked about, maybe this is it," he said.

Arians said he didn't make a final decision that day, but the writing was on the wall.

"I knew (Chris) had had enough," he said. "People don’t realize the stress on the family when you coach. It’s what you do, but there’s so much stress on them."

Another factor in Arians' decision came when he took time to accept the fact that his son Jake was 40 years old, and his granddaughter was an adult, as well.

"It hit me right in the face like a ton of bricks. I said, How did I miss that? To me, he was still 30, you know?" he said. "Presley was four; now she’s 23. Where did it all go?

"Those are the things that really hit you. The relationships that you build as a coach, sometimes you lose sight of your family. You can’t ever do that."

But the reality of his decision to step away after a 40-plus-year coaching career didn't fully hit him until the end of the Cardinals' rematch with the Seahawks in Seattle on New Year's Eve.

"Right at the end of the year, I truly knew when we made our kick and they missed their kick (in the final minute). That’s when I knew it was over," he said.

But with the sadness of knowing he was done also came a tremendous relief.

"It was an unbelievable feeling. The freedom, the calming, (like) you’re cancer-free — that kind of feeling," said Arians, a three-time cancer survivor. "We won the last game -- here of all places. It is time."

In the hours after he announced his retirement, Arians received over 300 calls and 400 text messages from former players who congratulated him on an outstanding career and thanked him for the difference he had made in their lives.

"Once I got through all that emotion, then it was like, I feel 10 years younger. I really do," he said.

The two things Arians will miss most about coaching? The relationships with his players, and the Star Spangled Banner.

"Coming out of the tunnel and standing for the national anthem, I tear up every week," he said. "And just the relationships of building a new team every year and meeting new players and building those relationships -- those relationships with quarterbacks, which are always very special to me -- I’ll miss those." 

What's next for Bruce Arians? Well, for starters, he's definitely not leaving the window open to coach again.

"It’s truly the greatest feeling in the world to know I can do anything I want. I know I want to work; I just know it’s not coaching," he said.

"I would never have left the job (if I wasn't ready to retire) because I had the greatest job in the world. Greatest owner, greatest general manager, heck of a football team coming back. No, there’s no way I’m going to coach again."

But you can still expect to see Arians around the NFL going forward -- even if it's only through your TV screen.

"I want to stay in the game," he said. "I don’t know if that’s broadcasting a game, being in the studio talking about the game, but I want to be around the game. Possibly a quarterbacks school -- something that keeps me in the game."

And if he's asked to replace Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football, he's all for it.

"I don’t know if I’m ready for that job yet," he said with a laugh. "If they’re giving it away, I’ll take it."