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In Arians, Eagles to face coach they snubbed

EVERY YEAR, for reasons I still haven't been able to ascertain, the Southern California town of Newport Beach honors the last player picked in the NFL draft.

EVERY YEAR, for reasons I still haven't been able to ascertain, the Southern California town of Newport Beach honors the last player picked in the NFL draft.

They call him "Mr. Irrelevant" and they fly the guy out to the left coast and wine and dine him and shower him with gifts and have a banquet in his honor, then put him back on a plane, so he can try to make somebody's practice squad.

Three years ago, Bruce Arians was the Mr. Irrelevant of that year's NFL head-coaching hires. Eight teams, including the Eagles, fired and hired new coaches following the 2012 season. The last name off the board that year, the last guy hired, was Arians.

Arians, who was named the league's coach of the year that season for the terrific job he did filling in for Colts head coach Chuck Pagano while Pagano was treated for leukemia, had been interested in a few of the other job openings, including the Browns', Bears' and Eagles'. But the interest wasn't mutual.

The Browns and their new CEO, Joe Banner, preferred Rob Chudzinski, who lasted all of a year.

The Bears, being the Bears, thought it would be cool to hire a guy from the CFL (Marc Trestman), who lasted one year longer than Chudzinski.

And the Eagles, well, they interviewed nearly a dozen people after firing Andy Reid, none of whom happened to be Arians, before hiring Chip Kelly.

The Eagles' lack of interest in Arians wasn't exactly a shock. While Arians is one of the league's most respected offensive coaches, his age - he was 60 at the time - and his unvarnished, tell-it-like-it-is personality were turnoffs to owner Jeff Lurie and then-general manager Howie Roseman.

Bruce was "Caddyshack" character Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) to Lurie's Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight).

"Somebody once asked him what you needed to have to be him for Halloween and he said, 'An attitude and a cocktail,' Cardinals backup quarterback Drew Stanton said. "There aren't many coaches who are going to say that in the NFL, but that's who he is."


Arians has had an interesting career. He became the youngest head coach in major college football in 1983 when he took the Temple job at age 30. Spent six years there, then had to wait another 24 years before finally getting another head-coaching opportunity with the Cardinals at age 60.

"There seems to be a great emphasis these days on the younger, up-and-coming coach, whether it's a coordinator or a college coach," said former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, who is part of an advisory group of former coaches and GMs that assembles a list of top coach and GM candidates for teams each year.

Peterson, who has known Arians since the 1980s when he was the president of the USFL's Philadelphia Stars and Arians was at Temple, gave Arians his first NFL job, hiring him as a tight-ends coach with the Chiefs after Temple showed him the door.

"Without question, what most owners look for and want is a guy who (still) has a lot of time ahead of him as a head coach," Peterson said. "I give credit to (Cardinals president) Mike Bidwill for ignoring that and hiring Bruce."

The Cardinals didn't have any reservations about Arians' age or personality. Maybe they figured he'd be a big hit with all of the retirees out there. Or maybe they figured the fact that he was a damn good football coach trumped everything else.

"He probably doesn't meet Central Casting (guidelines) for that prototypical NFL coach," Bidwill said. "But that doesn't matter to our players and it doesn't matter to our fans. What matters is we've got a great football coach."

The coach the Eagles hired and the coach they didn't will meet for the third time in as many years Sunday at the Linc. They split the first two games, with the Eagles beating the Cardinals at the Linc two years ago, 24-21, and Arizona winning last year in the desert on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer-to-John Brown pass with a minute-and-a-half left in the game.

Kelly's Eagles are 6-7 and struggling to make the playoffs through the NFC East back door. Arians' Cardinals, who were 11-5 last year and 10-6 in his first season, are 11-2 and haven't lost since mid-October.

Kelly and Arians have little in common. Both are very personable, both are funny. But Kelly isn't at all interested in letting you in, letting you get to know him. That includes his players.

Arians is the opposite. He has no secrets. Nothing is off-limits. Want to talk to his wife Christine or one of his kids? Here's their number. Want his feelings on the Steelers showing him the door following the 2011 season, just ask.

"When Mike (Tomlin) called me in, I actually thought it was (to talk) about a contract extension and a raise," Arians said last year. "But it was about no contract and find another job."

Some of Kelly's players have complained that they don't really know the man. You won't hear any of Arians' players say that.

"He has a way, and a very engaging one," Peterson said. "Bruce is tough. He doesn't play favorites. But that's because it's like they're all his favorites. He's an outstanding football coach."

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who has had to game-plan against Arians the last two years, as well as in Super Bowl XLIII in February 2009 when he was the Cardinals' defensive coordinator and Arians was the Steelers' offensive coordinator, has great respect for Arizona's head coach.

"He's done every kind of offense you can imagine," Davis said. "So he's got great versatility in his scheme. He just kind of says, 'OK, who are my players and where does the ball need to go?' He's got a great mind and he knows how to attack what you're in."

Arians doesn't much care for a lot of the things Kelly does offensively. He's not a big fan of his tempo. Doesn't like the zone read, because he thinks it exposes your quarterback to injury (Kelly has correctly pointed out that he has rarely used the zone read this season).

And he doesn't like the quarterback's lack of freedom in a no-huddle offense like Kelly's.

"They hold up a card on the sideline, (the quarterback) kicks his foot and throws the ball," Arians said last February at the NFL scouting combine. "That ain't playing quarterback. There's no leadership involved there. Maybe on the bench."

On Twitter: @Pdomo