Steve Keim, Bruce Arians flourish with defined roles


TEMPE, Ariz. -- The reasons were evident but neither Bruce Arians nor Steve Keim expected their contracts, which they had just signed in 2013, to be torn up and rewritten.

The two south Pennsylvanians had teamed up two years ago and have since led the Arizona Cardinals to 21 wins, the most in franchise history in back-to-back seasons in almost 40 years. Together, they have rewritten the culture of an organization that was stuck in a quagmire of losses for decades.

Neither was seeking a new deal despite their recent success. When team president Michael Bidwill approached both Arians and Keim about new contracts just two years into their old deals, both were surprised, at the very least.

"You're not going to say no," Arians said with a laugh Tuesday during a news conference with Keim to discuss their new deals. "It was really, really surprising and very humbling to me."

Keim was impressed with Bidwill's aggressiveness to get the deals done.

"I don't know many owners and presidents that would approach someone this early in the contract," Keim said. "It, again, speaks volumes about him, his commitment to winning and the passion he has for this organization."

But it was Arians and Keim who expedited Bidwill's decision to rip up their old deals.

Together, they've won, but it's how Arians and Keim have worked together that built a concrete foundation from which the Cardinals can grow, building stability for a franchise that's been yearning for it. Keim has a staple phrase he likes to use when describing why his relationship with Arians works.

"I think it's having clearly defined roles," Keim said. "When I say, 'clearly defined roles,' we stay in our lane. He does his job. I do mine."

Those defined roles have been boiled down to the basic principles of their respective jobs:

Arians coaches. Keim manages.

Two men, two roles, two lanes.

"When you don't cross those lines, they don't get blurred," Keim said. "Around the league, when you see those lines get blurred, internal dysfunction follows."

But the Cardinals don't suffer from the silo effect. Like the men they coach and sign, Arians and Keim are teammates. For one to be effective, the other has to do his job. Arians, 62, has been in the NFL since 1989. He's seen how fruitful a working coach/general manager relationship can be.

He's also seen them clash.

"The teams that are successful, they're doing it as a team," Arians said. "Most of the ones that aren't, egos are involved. Somebody is trying to get credit. The only credit is everybody putting a ring on your finger. As long as you're all working to the same goal, that's what it's all about."

Said Keim: "I think once you see these teams when their coaches and their GMs can't get along, it implodes. Not only does it implode at the top, it becomes infectious in the locker room.

"He and I were talking about it the other day. It's such a simple deal, simplistic idea to stay in your lane and to have clearly defined roles. But so many organizations have issues with that. That's why, again, we take such a great deal of pride in the relationship that not only we have, but we have with Michael, as well."

Yet, just because Arians and Keim stick to their defined roles doesn't mean they don't disagree. Their disagreements just don't escalate. Conversations, especially in the war room in the weeks leading up to the draft, can get heated.

"You always have healthy conversations," Keim said. "But never to the point where it's been an issue."

Whenever Bidwill meets with Keim and Arians to talk football, he's listening and learning.

He said on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM early Tuesday that when both speak, he's all ears. Bidwill will ask questions and give his input when it's warranted but he's mainly making sure he, Arians and Keim are all heading in the same direction.

"I think the three of us work together very, very well," Bidwill said.

It didn't take long for Arians and Keim to find the type of working relationship that fits both of them. From the onset of their tenure together, Jan. 17, 2013, they believed in the same philosophy ("check your ego at the door") and the same expectations for the Cardinals -- and 21 wins in two years with one playoff appearance hasn't quite satiated them.

But it was their relationship that allowed Arizona to set such a high baseline for those expectations, and neither Arians nor Keim knew how they'd work when they started together.

"I don't think you ever know until you get there," Arians said. "It's always easy when things are going good. When the hard times [come along], that's when you find out. It's been so easy working with Steve. They know what we don't have and what we do have, and they're always searching to help us get better.

"You'll never hear a coach say, 'We lost a game because we didn't have this player.' That's not how we do business. It's a very easy thing, like Steve said, when everybody does their job."