You have to go back 30 years to North Broad Street in Philadelphia to find the first inkling that New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles would someday square off with Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians as head coaches in the NFL.
Back then Bowles was finishing up his career as a player at Temple and Arians was piloting the Owls, not exactly a college football factory.
And Arians knew what Bowles’ future in the game was, he just took a while get there because the then-defensive back had a nearly decade-long run as a player in the NFL directly in front of him.
“I actually told him, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be making it in the pros,” Arians admitted when talking about a player he has called one of the smartest he’s ever mentored. “You might want to start coaching.”
Bowles respected his head coach but wasn’t about to listen to the advice, at least at first.
“I had a broken wrist at the time,” he said. “They told me I’d have arthritis later on in life, and he was just being honest with me. At the time, I was too immature to probably realize he was being honest with me, but I realized that later on in life. I was hard-headed and wanted to play anyway.”
It actually worked out pretty well for Bowles because his eight-year career, which featured a Super Bowl XXII win with the Washington Redskins, only furthered his understanding of the pro game when he did eventually embark on his journey in coaching.
That started at Morehouse College for Bowles in 1997 and three years later, he was on the fast track as the secondary coach of the Jets. By the next season, he was reunited with Arians on the staff on the Cleveland Browns when the veteran was the offensive coordinator, and his old player was handling the secondary work.
To explain just how much Arians thought of Bowles, after his 37-year wait to become an actual NFL head coach (he had the interim tag in Indy) ended at age 60 in the desert, the first move Arians made was to hire Bowles as his defensive coordinator.
And that, of course, was Bowles’ final stop before becoming the head coach of the Jets, a fact that hasn’t stopped the two from remaining close friends to this day despite starting all those years ago in a coach-player relationship, although each admits it’s their wives that do most of the talking these days because both coaches are so busy.
“It went from father-son to uncle-nephew to we’re almost like brothers now,” Bowles said. “Anything that he can help me with, he does. Anything I can help him with, I do. … He taught me so much in life and in football. Words can’t describe how I feel about him.”
The two brothers were on opposite sidelines Monday night, both trying to right the ship after shaky starts, Arians at 2-3 with one of the most talented teams in football and Bowles an even worse 1-4 with a once playoff-hopeful Jets team.
And the Jedi bested his Padawan rather easily, 28-3, thanks in large part to another superlative effort by David Johnson, who ran for 111 yards and three touchdowns.
Bowles, meanwhile, was forced to bench his starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after yet another poor performance.
It’s difficult to win in the NFL so every time you do, it’s meaningful and even a little joyous.
For Arians, though, Monday’s win was certainly filled with satisfaction because he beat someone he respects so much but it was also likely filled with a tinge of remorse, knowing he turned the burner up on Bowles’ future job prospects in North Jersey.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.