- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

CLEVELAND (AP) - Maybe if Tim Couch hadn’t broken his leg or the ball had bounced the Browns’ way in a 2002 playoff game in Pittsburgh, Bruce Arians would have never been fired. Maybe he would have gotten an NFL head coaching job much earlier.

Maybe if Eric Mangini hadn’t been hired as Cleveland’s coach in 2009, Arians would have been the one to drag the Browns from their doldrums.

Instead, he’s revived the Arizona Cardinals.

Arians so badly wanted to coach the Browns, who are on their seventh full-time coach since 1999. They didn’t want him, and it’s a point of frustration to this day.

“Yeah, very much so because I was notified that I was going to be contacted, then somebody else was hired that same day,” Arians said earlier this week as he prepared to bring the Cardinals (5-2) east to play the Browns (2-5).

Arians served as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator from 2001-03 under Butch Davis, still the only coach to get the Browns to the postseason. Arians was on the Browns’ coaching radar in ‘09 before then-owner Randy Lerner hired Eric Mangini, who went 5-11 in back-to-back seasons before he was canned.

Arians was 56 at the time and on his way to winning a second Super Bowl title on Pittsburgh’s staff.

But he would have jumped at the chance to coach the Browns, who have remained in a constant state of flux, changing coaches and quarterbacks on a regular basis.

Arians is surprised the Browns haven’t been able to achieve any real success.

“Yeah, I’m shocked because they have one of the greatest fan bases in the world,” said Arians, who believes he was fired by Davis after the 2003 season in part because he supported Couch. “It just comes down to a quarterback. We’re all tied to our quarterback. Some good coaches have come and gone. It’s the same. I really loved my time there, and I wish I would have had an opportunity (to be the head coach).”

Arians has found a home in the desert with the Cardinals, who have a short week after beating Baltimore on Monday night. He’s getting the best out of 35-year-old QB Carson Palmer, who praised Arians’ honest, direct approach in helping boost the Cardinals’ confidence.

“You don’t get a lot of sugar coating,” he said. “He is very to the point. I really respect that. I know players on our team really respect that. There is no messing around. There is no ‘Where do I sit or where do I stand?’ with this staff. He tells it like it is.”

Arians can be blunt, but there’s a softer side of him, too.

Although he didn’t get to coach them, he hopes the Browns can one day reign over the NFL.

“I root for them every week,” he said, “except this week.”

Some other things to watch as the Cardinals try to get their first win in Cleveland since 1985, when they were based in St. Louis:

QUARTERBACK MESS: The Browns spent much of the week not knowing if starter Josh McCown would be healthy enough to play or if backup Johnny Manziel would be eligible.

McCown was limited in practice by a right shoulder injury and sore ribs. The 36-year-old got pounded last week in St. Louis and could be a game-time decision. Manziel is being investigated by the NFL for a recent domestic dispute involving his girlfriend.

It’s possible the league could delay any action against Manziel until next week.

HIGH-FLYING CARDS: Arizona leads the NFL with 229 points and the Cardinals’ offense is averaging a league-high 6.78 yards per play.

The Browns know they’ve got a tough task ahead.

“It’s probably the most complete offense we’ve played against all year,” coordinator Jim O’Neil said. “They’re very good at every level: the line, tight ends, running backs, quarterback and wide receivers.”

THREE OF A KIND: Cleveland’s defense is as healthy as it has been in weeks as starting cornerback Joe Haden (concussion), safety Tashaun Gipson (ankle) and linebacker Craig Robertson (ankle) are all expected back.

“Everybody’s got fresh legs,” Gipson said.

They’ll need them.

REVIVED JOHNSON: Cardinals running back Chris Johnson, who nearly retired after being shot during the offseason, is enjoying a rebirth in Arizona. He’s second in the league with 567 yards rushing and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. One of seven players to eclipse 2,000 yards in a season, Johnson is showing his old breakaway speed.

“He looks good,” Haden said. “He’s CJ2K, he’s still able to burst out of there and make people miss.”

SAD SACKS: No wonder McCown is hurting. He was sacked four times last week and 21 times in the past five games. Arizona has 12 sacks so far.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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