By Bob McManaman, USA TODAY Sports
They are three of the biggest names in the NFL, three quarterbacks from three different starting points in their careers that quickly came to transcend their own eras.
Peyton Manning. Ben Roethlisberger. Andrew Luck.
Among them, they've made the Pro Bowl 15 times, been to five Super Bowls and won three of them, and got their teams to the playoffs 18 times in their combined 23 years of NFL playing experience.
They also happen to have at least one thing in common - the same NFL coach was there in the very beginning to greet and help develop all three of them.
Azcentral Sports reached out to Manning, Roethlisberger and Luck to get their takes on what makes Arians tick and how he shaped their paths with his unique personality and coaching style.
They were more than happy to oblige. Here are some of the thoughts and memories they shared about having worked with Arians, the first-year coach of the Arizona Cardinals:
The first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, Manning passed for 3,739 yards and 26 touchdowns his first year in the league, setting five NFL rookie records, including most touchdown passes in a season.
The owner of a record four NFL MVP awards, Manning remembers spending a great deal of time with Arians in that formative first year.
"He was my quarterbacks coach when I was drafted by the Colts and I can still remember getting drafted, flying to Indianapolis on draft day and sitting down with Bruce," said Manning, who ranks second all-time in touchdown passes (436) and third in passing yards (59,487).
"He handed me a playbook. I'd say a rookie quarterback probably spends the most time with his quarterbacks coach, so Bruce and I spent a lot of time together. They had some different rules back then that the rookies weren't allowed to spend as much time at the practice facility, yet the quarterback coach could come to you and so I remember Bruce came to Knoxville for a film session. He came to New Orleans for a film session.
"I remember he always wanted to know if there was a decent golf course in the area; we might be able to double up on some film session and some good golf. Bruce Arians loves his golf. He just taught me a lot about pro football. It's a huge adjustment going from college ball to pro ball and he really helped me get acclimated to the speed of the game."
Arians spent three seasons with Manning and the Colts before moving on to become offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. In those three years, though, Manning said he learned so much from Arians that he still relies on that information today as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, whom the Cardinals meet Thursday in the final preseason game for both teams.
"He really helped me a lot with my play-action," said Manning, entering his 16th NFL season. "He had been in Kansas City and Steve DeBerg was the quarterback. I always thought Steve DeBerg was one of the great play-action quarterbacks, and Bruce had good knowledge of him from being with the Chiefs. He really helped me out a lot with different types of fakes and I really attribute some of the good play-action fakes that I've been a part of to Bruce Arians."
Every player who has been around Arians seems to have a favorite story to tell about the 60-year-old coach from Paterson, N.J. For Manning, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, it had to do with another one of those film sessions.
"I could remember sitting in a meeting with him one time and he said, 'Why didn't you throw that pass?' " Manning recalled. "I said, 'Well, nobody was open.' He said, 'No, not that,' kind of pointing his hands together closely -'That, that is open. That's considered open in the NFL.'
"Bruce was really good that way for me."
We asked all three quarterbacks what they would say to Arians if they were to leave a message on his voicemail. Manning left this impression of his old quarterbacks coach:
"He was a fun guy to play for yet disciplined as a coach. He expects you to do the right things and Bruce had a big impact on my NFL career, no question about it."
Arians was the wide receivers coach for the Steelers when Pittsburgh selected Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft. Three games into that first season, Roethlisberger was the starting quarterback, and he and Arians quickly struck up a close relationship.
It was Roethlisberger, who went 13-0 in the regular season and won NFL offensive rookie of the year honors, who successfully lobbied for Arians to become the team's offensive coordinator after Ken Whisenhunt left to become the Cardinals head coach after the 2006 season.
Now, Arians has replaced Whisenhunt in that role, too.
"You could just tell right from the get-go how much he knew about the game of football and his passion for football and his players," said Roethlisberger, who was the winning quarterback in Super Bowls XL and XLIII, the latter against the Cardinals.
Arians has two Super Bowl rings from their time together, and Roethlisberger was disenchanted when the Steelers did not renew Arians' contract after the 2011 season.
"He coaches the way players want to be coached," said Roethlisberger, who surpassed Terry Bradshaw last season as the Steelers' all-time passing yards leader (29,844). "He's a player's coach and just knows how to relate to the guys - the way he talks to them, the way he acts, all the fun things that he does.
"He knows how to do that with the guys. And then he knows how to be strict and get on guys when he needs to."
When it comes to tips or tools Arians taught him, Roethlisberger said he still uses all of it to this day.
"I take so much from all of our time together," he said. "In every part of my game I take the things that he has taught me and helped me with. I'll use them for the rest of my career."
Roethlisberger can't pick any one story about Arians; there are too many.
"I've got lots of stories about B.A.," he said. "I just cherish the time we got to spend together, even the time that we'll get to spend together in the future. We both have houses down South and we golf together a lot. To me, some of the best times were just on the golf course with him."
As for what he'd leave on Arians' voicemail, Roethlisberger said it would be short and sweet.
"I would probably say, 'B.A., how's it going? How's your golf game?' " he said. "And then I'd tell him, 'Good luck.' "
The Arians connection among Manning, Roethlisberger and Luck came full circle last season in Indianapolis.
Manning had left the Colts to join the Broncos as a free agent, Arians rejoined the team as offensive coordinator, and Luck was Indy's prized pick in a great quarterback class.
With Arians teaching him the same things Manning and Roethlisberger learned before him, Luck set an NFL rookie record for passing yards (4,374), including a single-game record 433 in a Week 9 win against the Miami Dolphins.
After a 1-2 start, Colts coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and had to take a leave of absence. Arians took over on an interim basis and the Colts won nine of their next 12 games until Pagano returned for the season finale against the Houston Texans.
The Colts went from 2-14 to an 11-5 playoff team with Arians earning coach of the year honors and, ultimately, his first NFL head-coaching job in Arizona.
"I feel very fortunate to have played under him," Luck said. "To see how he led us last year through that tough time without Chuck was very inspiring.
"He made players comfortable around him and let everybody have their own personality. He didn't force anybody to be someone they weren't. It may sound a little corny or cheesy, but there's merit to that. I felt comfortable being myself and I felt he had my back. If I was doing something bad or wrong he'd let me know, but I felt I could go out there and give it everything I've got."
Luck laughed as he recalled Arians' infamous "accountability list" and the coach's trademark fashion statements like Kangol hats and knee-high socks.
"He just really has an infectious personality," the quarterback said. "But again, the strongest impression I got from him is he lets you play. He didn't hinder you or hold you back. He didn't coach you with kid gloves.
"He gave you the bicycle and let you ride it. There were no training wheels. He just said, 'Here you go, bud, let's go make it happen.' And I appreciated that as a young player. It made me feel comfortable to play football. I didn't have to hold anything back."
Luck said what he probably will remember and use most from his one season with Arians was what the coach taught him about situational football, particularly the two-minute drill and other end-of-game tactics.
"I loved the way he relates to players," Luck said. "Bruce could be tough on you as a coach, but the minute you walk off the field, he'd put his arms around your shoulder and invite you to have dinner with him.
"It was over. You'd get yelled at worse than you've ever been yelled at before but the next play, it's dead and gone, which I think is one of his greatest attributes as well."
Luck's favorite Arians story?
"Football-wise, it was when we beat the Chiefs last year to clinch a playoff spot and he did this little jig on the sideline," Luck said, starting to laugh. "It was terrible but awesome at the same time. I'm sure it's on YouTube if you look for it. That was funny."
If Luck were to leave a voicemail for Arians, this is the message he said he would leave:
"Good luck with the season - except against the Colts. And I appreciate everything you did for me."