The Pittsburgh Steelers have restocked their coaching staff shelves with a slew of hires this week, including new QB Coach Tom Arth. It’s unclear what Mike Sullivan’s role will be, but we know Arth will work with the quarterback room, as announced by the team Friday.
So, who is Arth? He’s certainly not a household NFL name, though that doesn’t speak to his ability to coach, good or bad. Let’s find out more about the team’s latest hire.
Growing up in the Cleveland suburbs, Arth attended Saint Ignatius High School, the same school that’s produced other NFL coaches like Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon and former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone. At one point in his coaching career, Arth attempted to hire Gannon and is friends with Ragone, so you wonder if he could ever make his way to the Steelers’ coaching staff, considering his ties to him and OC Arthur Smith.
A high school quarterback, he bided his time and slowly moved up the depth chart, once the 11th-string quarterback. He worked and became the school’s starter five games into his senior season, which he still cites as one of his proudest athletic achievements.
Recruited by John Carroll, a D-III school outside of Cleveland, Arth took over as the team’s starter and led them to great success. He threw for over 10,000 career yards and 89 touchdown passes while leading the school to the semifinals before losing to Mount Union, one of the best D-III schools of the last several decades. Arth’s college career was so impressive that he was named the greatest player in John Carroll football history for the program’s 100th anniversary, ranking ahead of names like LB London Fletcher, head coach Don Shula, and former Houston Texans GM Nick Caserio (who Arth replaced at QB).
Big and athletic, here’s Arth scrambling for a touchdown against Baldwin-Wallace in November of 2001.
He would be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
A torn labrum in his shoulder during his senior year caused him to miss four games. Putting off surgery that would’ve ended his season, he returned for John Carroll’s playoff run. The injury tamped down the NFL interest Arth received, once saying scouts were showing up nearly every day until only the Indianapolis Colts kept in contact with him after getting hurt.
Which is a good time to bring something else up. How did a guy from John Carroll end up in the NFL? The school has a ton of NFL ties. Former Las Vegas Raiders GM Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels attended there. Arth spent the 2022 and 2023 seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, hiring then-Chargers head coach Brandon Staley as John Carroll’s defensive coordinator when Arth served as the school’s head coach. Former Chargers GM Tom Telesco is a John Carroll native who was working as a scout for the Colts when Arth came out of college. Ditto with former Jacksonville Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell, a Colts’ area scout at the time, who went to school there. And then-Colts GM Bill Polian’s two sons attended John Carroll (hired in 2023, one of his sons is now the AD at John Carroll).
Those connections kept the Colts in touch with Arth, and he signed with the Colts as an undrafted free agent after the 2003 NFL Draft. He’s commonly referred to as “Peyton Manning’s backup,” which is technically true, but he was never Manning’s No. 2. He spent 2003 through 2005 on the practice squad, never appearing in a game, but said he was proud to hear Tony Dungy tell him he made the practice squad ahead of the ’05 season. I have to wonder if Mike Tomlin called Dungy before making this hire, learning more about Arth.
But Arth was more than just a teammate of Manning’s. The two became close, and Manning valued and respected Arth’s football IQ and dedication to the game. Arth would later say playing with Manning opened his eyes to how little Arth knew about football compared to Manning. But while with the Colts, Arth was a de facto coach, helping game plan, study tape to present to the team, and be a set of eyes and ears for Manning. This 2018 Akron Beacon Journal article spells out his role well, as told by Manning.
“From 2003-05, Manning said Arth essentially served as an assistant coach. Arth traveled with the team, usually not allowed for practice squad players. Each week, Manning and [Jim] Caldwell gave him a special project, like studying the opponent’s blitzes or watching the television copy of the previous game to see what words the defense might be able to hear. At the end of the week, Arth, sometimes with the other quarterbacks, would give a presentation.”
And look, here’s a photo of Arth and Manning. My favorite part is the caption that specifies Arth is on the left and Manning on the right. In case you weren’t sure. Arch would go on to serve as a counselor at some of the Manning passing camps.
In a 2016 interview with John Carroll, Arth told a great story of the pop quizzes Manning would give him and the other backup quarterbacks. Which probably didn’t feel that great at the time.
“I learned very quickly that you had better be prepared for anything and everything that he could possibly throw at you. Peyton was famous for randomly asking obscure and difficult questions that pertained to the film, the opponent, or the game plan. He would say, for example, ‘Tom, what’s your call here in this situation…it’s 3rd and-9, there’s 1:27 seconds left in the game, the score is tied…and by the way, the coaches’ phones went down, you have no timeouts, the play clock is at 10 seconds…9, 8, 7, 6.’ He would literally count down the clock, and if you didn’t have an answer, it would be a delay of game…you lose. Or if you didn’t have a good answer, well, that was probably worse!”
But Arth’s time was up after the ’05 season (which, of course, ended with the Steelers upsetting the Colts in the playoffs).
It’s worth noting Arth also spent time in the old NFL Europe, spending his springs and summers before camp opened up. In 2004, he was a member of the Scottish Claymores – a tremendous team name – and in 2005, with the Hamburg Sea Devils. Over that span, he threw two touchdowns and four interceptions while seeing only a fraction of playing time. He did throw a 95-yard TD pass in 2005 with the Sea Devils, a clip I regretfully have been unable to find, but here’s his other touchdown as a Claymore, a short toss into the left flat.
Someone please bring this back. British commentators for a football game. This is what the game needs. And for anyone wondering why and how I found a clip of J.T. O’Sullivan playing for Frankfurt, I was scouring the internet for clips of Arth.
Dungy gave Arth the chance to join the Colts’ coaching staff as a quality control coach in 2005, but he turned down the chance, not entertaining the idea of being a coach with a desire to keep playing the game instead.
Arth signed with the Green Bay Packers in March of 2006 but was released right before training camp, much to his surprise and disappointment. He spent the next few years in other professional leagues, including the Arena Football League, before realizing he needed to move on with life’s work. Married to his high school sweetheart (they’ve now been together for over 30 years), he already had two kids and needed to find a way to provide for his family.
Personable and well-liked, he initially talked to a company called Ideastream Products, who said they didn’t have a job opening but liked him enough to offer him the chance to become a trainee. He did that for a bit, in addition to briefly running the Tom Arth Cleveland Passing Academy, before calling up someone who worked at John Carroll to see if there were any other job openings. A coaching position at his alma mater opened up, and he became the school’s co-offensive coordinator and lead recruiter in 2010. In 2013, he was named John Carroll’s head coach, replacing Regis Scafe, who had served 14 years in that post. Arth was only 31 when hired, a very young head coach.
But he found the same success coaching as he did playing. In four years with the Blue Streaks, Arth went 40-8, going 9-2 in 2013, 11-2 in 2014, 8-2 in 2015, and 12-2 in 2016. It was that 2016 season that became his and the school’s most memorable. Not only did John Carroll make it to the semifinals, but they upset powerhouse Mount Union 31-28 during the regular season, snapping their rival’s 112-game win streak and winning the conference championship.
That success got him on the radar of larger schools. UT-Chattanooga hired him to the FCS level for the 2017 season. After posting a losing record his first year, he got above .500 in 2018. That was enough to reach the FBS coaching ranks, a surprise hire by the Akron Zips for their job at the age of 37, meaning he was a head coach at three different colleges before his 40th birthday.
Recommending him for the Akron job was two people. Longtime offensive line coach Howard Mudd, who certainly didn’t offer many coaching recommendations, and Peyton Manning, who called up the Zips’ Athletic Director Larry Williams to offer an honest assessment of Arth.
“I said, ‘Larry, I’ve never seen Tom in a head coaching role. I’ve never been to a practice, all I call tell you is what a quality person he is, what a hard worker he is. He’s been around some quality coaches. He’s been around lots of different levels of football, and I think a lot of those things will serve him well. He’s a very bright guy.’”
Arth got the job.
But like many other Akron coaches, Arth couldn’t turn the program around. He went winless in 2019, 0-12, before going 1-5 in a COVID-shortened 2020 season. He went 2-7 midway through the 2021 year before being fired with three games left in the season following a loss to Ball State. Arth went 3-24 as the Zips’ head coach. Two of his wins came against Bowling Green, the other against FCS Bryant.
Arth was hired by the Chargers, reuniting with his former DC Brandon Staley, in 2022 as the team’s new Passing Game Coordinator. It was a job he considered taking in 2021 before deciding to remain at Akron until getting fired. In an interview with the Chargers’ website, Arth didn’t elaborate much on what the role meant.
“Really just being a support element for all of our coaches, particularly on the offensive side of the ball,” he said in June of 2023. “Certainly, anywhere that I can lend my experience or contribute in any way is what I try to do.”
He spent the 2022 and 2023 seasons there before being hired by Pittsburgh. The chance to return near to his home of Cleveland was a selling point, I’m sure.
Arth has continually expressed how important family is, starting with his own.
“Every day he would preach that when it’s time to play football, it’s time to play, but that it’s important to be a student and a gentleman because there always is someone watching you,” John Carroll QB Anthony Moeglin told The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. “You have to be at your best all the time in everything you do. He said we’re all going to have jobs someday and have families someday.”
He’s also shown outside-the-box thinking as a head coach. At John Carroll, he once brought in an etiquette coach and yoga teacher, the former to teach his players how to act at a fancy dinner.
“I still remember her saying … ‘slice .. slice … pierce’ when cutting up food,” laughed Arth. “The guys loved her.”
As far as Arth, the coach, I wish I had clinic tape to break down like I came across for Arthur Smith. Not having as much luck here. While Arth has done many interviews as a head coach, they don’t get into coaching philosophy, especially for quarterbacks. Most of his press conferences have sounded fine but are generally coach-speak and things all coaches say. Being tough, practicing hard, and you don’t give too much specific away when you’re the head coach.
When introduced as UT-Chattanooga, Arth did have one interesting comment about committing to the game.
“To want something requires nothing,” he said. “It requires absolutely nothing. It requires no commitment. It requires no sacrifice. But to will, that takes investment. That takes sacrifice, that takes action.”
In an assortment of clips as the head coach at Akron, he was vocal and high-energy. He worked closely with the quarterbacks, once stressing the importance of getting more depth than width on rollouts to avoid immediate pressure and to buy time to get the ball off. In another drill, he focused on quarterbacks having a wide enough base to throw from.
In a 2016 interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Arthur expanded a little more on his style, though it’s in line with many other coaches.
“From a philosophical standpoint, we don’t change, but in terms of how we do things, it’s going to be very dependent on the players – what they do well, what they can understand, what they can be successful at,” Arth said. “There’s a lot of versatility built into the scheme. It’s not like we’re changing from one week to the next; we just have it built in.
“We have huge installs that come at you fast, but at the end of the day, if you start simple, you can never be complicated. We want to put it all on you, find out what you can absorb, what you can retain, and we’re smart enough to know when to pare back into what we need to.”
I’ll try to keep learning more over the coming weeks and months before we hear from him, hopefully sometime during the spring. But this is a good primer on Arth’s background and a little bit about his coaching viewpoints as a foundation to evaluate him going forward.