Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians rejuvenated after beating cancer

Cardinals Colts Football
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians signals his players during a voluntary team workout, Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

It’s been a tough last 14 months for Bruce Arians.

The fun started last August for the Cardinals coach when he was hospitalized with what turned out to be diverticulitis, a disease that affects the digestive tract.

Then, in November, he was hospitalized again after experiencing chest pains following a road game in Minnesota.

A few weeks later, an ultrasound found renal cell carcinoma — cancer — on one of his kidneys.

And, oh, yeah. Arians’ football team, which had won 13 games and made it to the NFC championship game the year before, underperformed and finished 7-8-1.

Arians, who was the head coach at Temple from 1983 through 1988, had surgery in February to remove the cancerous part of the kidney. It didn’t become public knowledge until he revealed it this summer in his book, “The Quarterback Whisperer.’’

There were reports last December that the then-64-year-old Arians was considering retirement. He denied it at the time, but now admits now it was something he discussed with his wife Christine and the rest of his family after the cancer diagnosis.

“It was a hard year physically,’’ said Arians, who says he now is cancer-free. “If I ever was going to retire because of the physical stuff, it would’ve been last year.

“But once we found the cancer and it was gone, I felt very rejuvenated. I’m still fighting a rotator cuff (injury). But otherwise, I feel great.’’

Arians turned 65 earlier this week. Asked how it felt to be 65, he said, “sexier than ever.’’

This was Arians’ third bout with cancer. He had prostate cancer in 2007 when he was an assistant with the Steelers, which he beat. In 2013, shortly after he was hired by the Cardinals, he had cancerous cells scraped from his nose.

This latest scare has altered his perspective on life.

“I now realize more than ever that nothing is guaranteed in life,’’ he wrote in his book. “Every day needs to be enjoyed and celebrated to the fullest. Roses need to be smelled, sunsets savored, time with family cherished.’’

It seems like it would be a lot easier to smell the roses and savor the sunsets and enjoy family time from the deck of his lakefront home in central Georgia than from an office at the Cardinals’ training facility.

But this is a guy who had to wait until he was 60 to get his first NFL head-coaching opportunity, and he’s not quite ready to give that up yet.

“(I’m here for) as long as they’ll have me,’’ said Arians, who has one more year left on his contract. “This game keeps you young. Standing in the locker room around these guys, it’s like it was when I was coaching in college.

“You can’t always understand everything that’s being said (by the players) and what it means. But if I don’t know, I just ask my 22-year-old granddaughter.’’

There has been speculation that Arians will call it quits after this season, but he said about both himself and his team, “I don’t put timetables on things. We just go year-to-year, game-to-game.’’

Arians inherited a five-win team when he took over after the 2012 season. The Cardinals won 10 games in his first year at the helm, won 11 and made the playoffs in his second season, and went 13-3 and made it to the NFC championship game two years ago.

But after last season’s disappointing finish and a 2-2 start this year, their window of opportunity appears to be shrinking. His quarterback, Carson Palmer, will turn 38 in December, and this could be his swan song.

Palmer finished 20th in the league in passing with 14 interceptions last year and is 28th with five picks already this year heading into Sunday’s game against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

There is no replacement for Palmer in sight at the moment. His backup, Drew Stanton, is a 10-year journeyman with just 13 career starts.

Arians has said he didn’t want to leave until an heir apparent for Palmer had been found and developed. But when the Cardinals signed Palmer before the 2014 season, Arians also said that the two of them would one day ride “off in the sunset together.’’

That day may be coming very soon.

Then again, Arians insisted this week that Palmer still has a lot of good football left in him. If Tom Brady can play when he’s 40, why can’t Palmer?

“Sports science has changed all that,’’ he said. “All that’s kind of out the window with these guys playing until they’re 40.

“Carson’s probably in the best shape he’s been in in a long time physically. We just have to quit getting him hit so much.”

Palmer has been sacked an NFL-high 17 times. It probably would help if the Cardinals ran the ball more. But since losing David Johnson to a wrist injury in Week 1, they’re not very good at it and don’t even try. They’re averaging just 21.5 rushing attempts per game and a league-high 45.7 pass attempts.

“The fourth quarter dictates how many runs you have in a game,’’ Arians said. “If you’re behind, if you’re ahead. We’ve been in dogfights, so we’ve probably been throwing it more in the fourth quarter than I would like to. I’d like to stay balanced up until then and see how the game plays out.’’

Arians likes to throw the ball downfield. Palmer has attempted 26 passes of 20 yards or more (he’s completed 11), which is second in the NFL only to Tom Brady’s 30. Carson Wentz is 5-for-22 on deep balls.

“He has an aggressive down-the-field mentality,’’ Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Arians. “They’ve obviously gone after speed (receivers) the last couple of years.

“There’s always usually a built-in sort of quick throw or “hot’’ throw for the quarterback. But even on third-and-longer situations, they’re still putting five guys into routes.’’