NFL Nation: Mike Caldwell

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Being the conductor of one of the league's best defense doesn't change a man.

Watching your scheme fail repeatedly does.

[+] EnlargeTodd Bowles
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe odds were against Todd Bowles as head of Philadelphia's defense last season, but that grind has served him well in Arizona.
The coaches box at Lincoln Financial Field, where Todd Bowles will direct the eighth-best defense in the NFL on Sunday, is the same place Bowles learned he was a defensive coordinator. After six games last season, the Philadelphia Eagles promoted Bowles from secondary coach to defensive coordinator, but the results Philly hoped to see under Bowles never materialized.

While his team struggled to adjust to his scheme, Bowles matured as a coach.

"I think the growth, you saw it last year when he took over," said Cardinals inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell, who coached with Bowles last season. "You could tell there was a difference. Now, the results weren't any different but there was a difference as far as what we were trying to take away and how we played defense.

"He just added to that. He has his philosophy that he wants to take away things and he takes them away. And he sticks with that and it's been successful for him."

Bowles never questioned the type of coach he was or if his scheme could work. Even as the frustration set in, Bowles kept his head up.

"Any time you have failure, you grind, as a coach or a player," Bowles said. "You try to be better than you were the year before and you're more determined, understanding things that went wrong and what you need to do going forward.

"I learned to just keep grinding. You're never too old to learn anything. You're never too knowledgeable not to take advice from everything else."

Caldwell compared the problems the Eagles had with Bowle's scheme to a college student preparing for a test. A student, Caldwell says, can get the foundation of any subject over the course of a few semesters. In Philadelphia, Bowles was trying to cram all that work into just one semester.

And it didn't work.

"Some guys got it and some guys didn't," said Caldwell, the Eagles' linebackers coach last season. "It takes a while for a defense to jell together and when you try to cram it together, sometimes you hit and miss, and we missed more than we hit."

But that didn't matter to Bruce Arians.

When he was putting together his staff in Arizona last January, Bowles was one of the first people he called. Arians saw the football intelligence in Bowles from the moment he met him at Temple University and it's carried over into his coaching career.

Arians, you could say, saw this coming.

"There was never a doubt in my mind he would be [successful], so it's really not satisfaction, no," Arians said. "I knew it coming in and I just hope we get to keep him –- but I'd really like to see him become a head coach."

What Bowles learned in Philadelphia is working in Arizona.

He inherited one of the best run defenses in the league, but it just needed Bowles to know it. Last year, the Cardinals were ranked 28th in stopping the rush. When Bowles came in, he eliminated the multi-gap 3-4 system that Ray Horton ran last season and installed a single-gap 3-4. The Cardinals have flourished under it, climbing to second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed with 81.3 per game.

This week, Bowles said he won't get any personal satisfaction in beating the Eagles.

That might be Bowles' public facade, but if Arizona can stop Philadelphia's ground game, one of those sly smiles and hearty laughs is bound to cross his face. Arizona will have its toughest rushing test of the season in the Eagles, who lead the NFL with 150.6 yards per game.

Safety Yeremiah Bell and Bowles were separated for a year, but the two didn't miss a beat when the Cardinals signed Bell in the spring. Enough of the defensive scheme was the same from their time in Miami that Bell had little trouble picking up what Bowles was trying to do with the Cardinals.

But one thing Bell noticed immediately was that Bowles is the same person. His demeanor hasn't changed. His fire is the same.

Bowles understands what it's like to be at the top of the mountain, guiding a defense that has quietly established itself as one of the best in the NFL.

He also knows what it's like to fail. For 10 games last year, he tried to rise above the chaos in Philadelphia, but no matter how hard he tried, regardless of how many tweaks he made, the Eagles continued to struggle and it all fell back on him.

"You're frustrated as a coach or a player, you try to win every game and you don't," Bowles said. "It starts snowballing. Sometimes there's no way out and we couldn't get out of our own way."
A few thoughts after the Arizona Cardinals announced Bruce Arians' initial coaching staff for the 2013 season:


  • More resources: Former head coach Ken Whisenhunt had 16 assistants last season, three or four fewer than the NFC West norm. The number wasn't alarmingly low; New England has had the same number at various points. Arians has 20 assistants, counting four holdovers whose names I've bolded in the chart below.
  • OL committee: The Cardinals do not have an offensive line coach by title. With Arians calling offensive plays, coordinator Harold Goodwin will take the lead with the line. Larry Zierlein, the Pittsburgh Steelers' line coach for three seasons ending in 2009, is the assistant O-line coach.
  • Familiar name: Former Cardinals running back and return specialist Stump Mitchell will coach running backs. He spent nearly a decade on Mike Holmgren's staff in Seattle before following Jim Zorn to the Washington Redskins. He was then head coach at Southern University. Mitchell still holds the Cardinals franchise record for all-purpose yards (11,988).
  • Experience rules: Arians is a first-time NFL head coach, but his staff has veteran seasoning. Tom Moore, Tom Pratt, Zierlein, Rick Christophel and Nick Rapone each have more than 30 years of NFL and/or college coaching experience.

The chart compares the Cardinals' final staff under Whisenhunt to their current one under Arians.

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