TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's one thing to take a franchise that was used to winning and return it to its rightful place among the league's elite, especially with a rookie quarterback who was the top pick in the draft.
It's another to take a team that's been buried in losing seasons for more than half its existence and win with a journeyman veteran quarterback and a patchwork offensive line, even with on of the NFL's best defenses and a future Hall of Famer at wide receiver.
But that's exactly what first-year coach Bruce Arians is doing with the Arizona Cardinals.
At 7-4, Arians has Arizona in the playoff hunt in late November. But it's not just that he wins, he proved yet again that his offense is capable of dominating games. He's also completely changed the culture around the Cardinals in less than three-quarters of a season. Players want to work hard for him, they want to spend extra time on the practice field for him, they want to win for him. Arians doesn't micromanage his team or the organization. When Arizona signed Carson Palmer, Arians was quick to name him the starting quarterback back in April. It's not how things used to be around the Cardinals.
And that's why Arians should win his second straight coach of the year award.
Last year, he won the award because he kept the Colts' ship afloat, going 9-3 as the interim coach. This year, however, he's the captain and, at 61, he's showing that one can never be too old to be a first-time head coach.
Obviously, there are still five games left and a lot can go wrong but if the Cardinals continue this pace, Arians' coaching job in 2013 may be more remarkable than Ron Rivera's in Carolina or Chip Kelly's in Philadelphia.
Arizona lost nine straight games last season, the third consecutive year it had a losing streak of six games or longer. Winning has never been synonymous with the Cardinals, but that's changing under Arians.
There have been 14 coaches since Charley Winner won at least seven of his first 11 games in his first year as Cardinals coach in 1966. None besides Arians have accomplished that feat.
Under Arians, the Cardinals have already scored 254 points through 11 games, four more than last year's total of 250, and they have two more touchdowns, 27, than they did last season. In the other major categories, the Cardinals are a game or two away from topping last season's final stats.
Nothing about this season is like last year and that's why the job Arians has done in Arizona is worthy of another trophy in his office.