Bruce Arians went to Chicago to interview with the Bears for their head coaching vacancy in 2013 thinking that he had the job. The Eagles apparently thought so, too.
The Eagles, Browns, and Chargers canceled interviews with the then-Colts offensive coordinator when he visited Chicago first, Arians said Wednesday. The Bears filed the necessary paperwork first and therefore had dibs.
Asked why those three teams canceled - all on the same day - Arians said, "I never got an answer other than, 'Thanks but no thanks.' "
Arians, of course, didn't get the Bears job. It went to Marc Trestman instead. In a matter of days he had been crossed off by four of the six remaining teams that had openings that January.
"I was probably more disappointed because I thought I had the Bears job," Arians said during a conference call. "It was like a double whammy."
But there was a happy ending for the former Temple coach. The Cardinals ended up hiring Arians, and while he was the last head coach to be hired that offseason, it could be said after almost three years that he has been the best of the group.
Offensive play-callers were in vogue that offseason. Six of the seven hired were offensive-minded coaches - the Eagles' Chip Kelly, the Chiefs' Andy Reid, the Chargers' Mike McCoy, the Browns' Rob Chudzinksi, Trestman, and Arians. The Jaguars hired the defensive-minded Gus Bradley, who was the Eagles' runner-up.
Chudzinski was fired after one season, Trestman after two. Kelly has gone 26-19 in three seasons, Reid 28-17, McCoy 21-14, and Bradley 12-33. The first three have had one playoff appearance. Kelly and Reid are still alive for another this year and Bradley has a chance for his first.
But Arians has had the most success. He has a 32-13 record, and his 11-2 Cardinals, who face the Eagles on Sunday, have already clinched their second straight postseason berth.
Arizona is as well-rounded as any team, but Arians' No. 1-ranked offense has evolved into a unit that can beat defenses multiple ways. The system is a traditional one with huddling and a drop-back quarterback in Carson Palmer, who can audible and change protections at the line at any time.
"It's just my philosophy," Arians said. "We want to put a lot of pressure on playing quarterback for our offense and take us out of a bad play and put us in a better play, give you three plays at the line of scrimmage and be able to put your offensive line in position to hopefully be successful."
When Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie began his search for a coach after firing Reid, he made it clear that he wanted an innovator. Kelly was the favorite, but he initially withdrew his name. The Eagles interviewed other candidates, but Arians was discarded - for whatever the reason - as they narrowed their sights on Bradley.
And then Kelly changed his mind.
His up-tempo offense took the NFL by storm in his first season. It has steadily slid since, going from No. 2 in total yards to fifth to 16th this season. Arians has been a critic of offenses that use zone-read and up-tempo, but he disagreed with the notion that the league has figured Kelly out.
"I don't think so," Arians said. "There are plays to make every game. I think what's happening now is they're getting on the same page."
If the Eagles have made marginal improvement it's mostly because of Sam Bradford. He has increasingly looked comfortable running Kelly's scheme, which typically doesn't allow for the quarterback to make pre-snap changes at the line. Kelly and sideline signalers send in plays all in the interest of time.
Kelly said there's been "a big misconception" that his quarterbacks can't audible. There are built-in options post-snap. But on the occasion when the Eagles do slow down - in the red zone or the four-minute offense - the plays and changes still come from Kelly.
Bradford was asked whether his growing ease has anything to do with getting used to not having autonomy at the line, as he did with the Rams.
"I'm not sure that has a whole lot to do [with it]," he said. "Obviously, that's something that we did a lot in St. Louis and there's a little bit of different mentality here. But I think overall . . . it's getting more comfortable in what we're doing."
In February, Arians said there was "no leadership" in having the quarterback always run the play as called. He did have praise for the up-tempo on Wednesday, though, noting how the Colts ran a version of it with Peyton Manning when Arians was there as quarterbacks coach. But the quarterback still had most of the control.
Arians got his first NFL offensive coordinator job in 2001 with the Browns. He eventually wound up with the Steelers, where he called plays for Ben Roethlisberger for five seasons, including in 2008, when Pittsburgh won a Super Bowl. Davis, with the Cardinals then, was the opposing defensive coordinator.
"He's done every kind of offense you can imagine, so he's got great versatility in his scheme," Davis said. "Then he just kind of says, 'OK, who are my players and where does this ball need to go?'"
Kelly's scheme has changed in three seasons. The zone-read plays have all been scrapped with Bradford, along with many of the package plays that have post-snap run-pass options. But tempo is still the foundation. And Kelly's core run plays remain, even though there have been questions about their effectiveness when DeMarco Murray has the ball.
Arians said his offense is predicated on personnel.
"I always like to say, 'Our offense can scratch whatever it itches," he said.
He was hoping the Eagles would have scratched more two years ago.
"Heck, yeah. Philly's like home," Arians said. "Very close to home."