Ray Horton was hired as the Cardinals' new defensive coordinator Wednesday.
To start, the Cardinals will blitz.
That was Ray Horton’s promise Wednesday, soon after coach Ken Whisenhunt hired the Steelers defensive backs coach to be his new defensive coordinator.
“I am here to say right now the first call is going to be a blitz,” Horton said. “No question about it.”
That was the message delivered by Horton, who signed a three-year contract as the replacement for the fired Bill Davis. He talked about pressure, about coming fast, about aggressiveness. He said he wanted, when the game was over, teams to “know they played the Arizona Cardinals.” The theme didn’t stop.
And it isn’t surprising to Horton’s mentor, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
“I of course believe in pressure and I would hope the guys who have worked with me believe it in too,” LeBeau told azcardinals.com Wednesday. “Sounds like Ray does.”
The LeBeau-Horton ties are significant in the hire. Whisenhunt worked with Horton for three years when both were on Pittsburgh’s staff prior to Whisenhunt’s departure to Arizona, but it is Horton’s stewardship under LeBeau that likely made a bigger impact.
Horton, 50, came into the league to start a 10-year NFL career as a defensive back with the Bengals and LeBeau was part of that staff. During Horton’s 17-year coaching career, LeBeau also hired Horton twice – once in Cincinnati, once in Pittsburgh – and said he tried “a couple of other times” to hire Horton as coach that didn’t work out.
Horton said he was “definitely going to be a Dick LeBeau devotee” and he’s in a spot LeBeau said he’s long expected, all the way back to Horton’s playing days.
“There was never question in my mind he is ready to be a coordinator,” LeBeau said. “He understands the A’s to the Z’s of defensive football and he’s an extremely bright man. He had a great rapport with the players.
“He was one of those players who you recognize almost instantly was going to make a great coach.”
Horton will run a 3-4 defense. That is no surprise. As for the talent to run his scheme, Horton acknowledged he has not finished evaluating personnel, although he said technique and fundamental improvements will immediately help the defense.
“We are going to be very demanding and very precise with what we ask these players to do,” Horton said.
He has work in front of him. First comes filling out the defensive staff. No changes were announced Wednesday, but Whisenhunt said a coordinator deserves to be able to bring in a couple of his own coaches and newcomers are expected soon. Former cornerback Deshea Townsend, who played eight games for the Colts this season after a 12-year stint in Pittsburgh, interviewed for a spot Wednesday. Horton said if Townsend is hired, he’d likely take an assistant role rather than a full position coaching spot.
Concerned about the impending work stoppage and a lack of preparation time, Horton said he will keep the terminology much the same, turning plays into something players – and remaining coaches – understand what is being done.
“We’ve at times been successful defensively and other times we haven’t,” Whisenhunt said. “The goal for us is to become more consistent, be a better defensive football squad. I definitely believe that Ray gives us the ability to do that.”
Whisenhunt had investigated hiring Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler, another LeBeau protégé, but Pittsburgh denied permission for Butler – who is under contract – to interview for the job.
This past season, the Steelers ranked second in overall defense, 12th in passing defense and first in points allowed. The Steelers totaled 21 interceptions this season. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, the NFL’s defensive player of the year, had already plugged Horton’s potential.
“He’s been around the game a lot and he’s won a Super Bowl as a coach and as a player,” Polamalu said during Super Bowl week. “He’s had so much to do with the success that we’ve had as a secondary -- my own, personally.”
“It was just about what opportunity presented that he wanted to take,” Haggans said. “I always knew his name was going to be in the hat, not necessarily here, but all around the league.”
So Horton landed in Arizona. Aggressively.
“Our model is going to be, ‘Go get ’em,’” Horton said.
EXTRA POINT: Quarterbacks coach Chris Miller, who had been a finalist for the head coaching job with Southern Oregon University, said Wednesday he would be staying with the Cardinals.