After all, Arians was a true original -- a man who brought personality to a gig where that's not necessarily encouraged. To put it simply, Arians was fun. Sports are more entertaining when there are people like Mr. Kangol in the mix.
Arians' absence is felt at this year's NFL Scouting Combine. This weekend, coaches, general managers and various other team officials will settle into their seats at Lucas Oil Stadium and form judgments on fit young men in spandex. (This remains a weird event on a surface level.) But before that happens, coaches and GMs meet with the sweaty journo masses in press conferences that ostensibly set the table for free agency and the draft.
This was a scene where Arians always shined. A year before Arians retired, Rex Ryan was fired by the Buffalo Bills, ending his seven-year run at the combine podium. Rex loved this place, too: He once guaranteed a Super Bowl win for the Jets here, which is Tim and Eric-level absurdist comedy in retrospect. Rex was bad as a prognosticator, but always good copy.
With both Ryan and Arians now out of the picture, it begs the question: Who will fill the NFL head coach charisma vacuum? I decided to sit in on the press conferences of each of the league's seven new head coaches to find out if anyone has a shot.
Let's start with the most obvious candidate. Gruden is back in the league after signing a 10-year, $100 million contract with the Raiders. On Wednesday, Gruden looked very much like a man pleased with his lot in life. You'd be comfortable, too, if you just signed a contract that made you essentially bulletproof. Gruden never really went away, of course. He spent the past decade in the booth for "Monday Night Football" talking about spiders and bananas and grinders.
As he stood at the podium, you could pick up on that extra polish gleaned from a decade of television work. He was smooth and engaging. He cracked jokes, too, explaining that his wife had issued him a "hall pass" to enjoy the more "social" aspects of this industry event. I particularly enjoyed his troll job of the analytics community, explaining his goal to "bring football back to 1998" while struggling with the corrected pronunciations of "data" (day-ta v. dah-ta).
All in all, it was a successful return for Gruden. It's good to have him back.
Charisma Grade: 9.1/10
Gruden's not the only coach making a combine presser comeback. Pat Shurmur is back in the big chair with the Giants. And like Gruden, Shurmur looked relaxed and confident in a familiar setting. That's where the comparisons end, however. Shurmur's 15-minute availability was block and tackle. Sample reply: "We're going to pick the very best player that we can pick at the No. 2 pick." Well, that's good. If Shurmur's goal was to say absolutely nothing that would get on the back cover of a New York tabloid, he was successful. He did say the Cowboys and Redskins are "obviously outstanding" teams, which felt like an exaggeration.
Charisma Grade: 4.4/10
There's an old saying: You never want to be the guy who follows the guy. You want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the guy. That's what I was thinking while I watched Wilks, who is not Bruce Arians 2.0. He doesn't have to be, of course, but I think there will be an adjustment period for Cardinals fans. Beyond that, I was struck by what a huge challenge Wilks faces. He has no quarterback, and 34-year-old franchise legend Larry Fitzgerald is the only relevant pass-catcher under contract. This explains nebulous statements like, "I believe in establishing the run," and "We're going to do whatever it takes to win a football game." I wish I could tell you that after that last comment, Wilks pushed his sunglasses to the bridge of his nose, made direct eye contact with me and repeated, "Whatever it takes." ... but he didn't. He wasn't even wearing sunglasses.
Charisma Grade: 3.6/10
Before Matt Patricia was hired by the Lions, I assumed he was just another Belichick clone, a programmed football machine unable to process human emotion. Years of watching Patricia on the sideline with his overgrown beard and intense glare (nobody stares at a play sheet like Matt Patricia) only reinforced this perception. As it turns out, that couldn't be further from the truth. Patricia came off as friendly, approachable and fully engaged in his 15 minutes. As colleague Kevin Patra put it on Wednesday's Around The NFL Podcast, Patricia is the coach you'd most want to grab a beer with. This is a high compliment and the title that Bruce Arians held for the past half-decade. Patricia also scored points for his fashion choices. Zip-up hoodie over a black Bon Jovi T-shirt (really), black Lions cap, signature sharpened pencil tucked behind his right ear. I like me some Matt Patricia, and I think Lions fans will, too.
Charisma Grade: 8.3/10
Nagy was a little bit more difficult to get a handle on during his availability. He certainly came off as personable and forthright -- well, as forthright as NFL coaches can be in late February -- but he didn't say anything that stood out. He did mention that Andy Reid taught him the ways of clock management, which I'm sure makes Bears fans incredibly comfortable.
Charisma Grade: 5.0/10
Vrabel was born to be an NFL head coach. That was my first impression as Vrabel addressed the scrum like a guy who has been doing the job for roughly 400 years. There's certainly some Belichick in the former Patriot (sample statement: "The goal is that we improve at every position"), but Vrabel most reminded me of Bill O'Brien. This makes sense, of course, seeing as Vrabel spent the past few years on O'Brien's staff in Houston. One last note: Vrabel, like Patricia, didn't seem to put much thought into presentation. He actually appeared to be wearing someone else's old Titans pullover jacket. I imagine he'll get his own team-issued merch soon enough.
Charisma Grade: 7.4/10
Reich is your friend's nice dad. You know the type. Warm smile, genial personality. Reich said he's looking for MEN OF INTEGRITY, and I think he falls into that category. You really hope Reich makes the most of his surprise golden opportunity in Indianapolis. In other news, Reich is tasked with answering Andrew Luck-related questions on a non-stop loop right now. I imagine this will be the case from now until the Colts' franchise star finally plays football again. I just decided MEN OF INTEGRITY will be the name of my fantasy baseball team. Thanks, Frank.
Charisma Grade: 7.0/10