It did not take long for Ray Horton to get his message across in the press conference to introduce him as defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals. When introduced and even before he was asked any questions, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach and follower of legendary Dick LeBeau announced that his team would have an "aggressive, downhill, attacking defense." In fact, he promised that the first play he calls for the defense would be a blitz.
Horton is now the third DC for Ken Whisenhunt, but he didn't seem to think that this was an issue. "Most people don’t marry the first girl they date," he said. "Hopefully they marry the best one." Not a bad response, in my opinion. Clancy Pendergast was more or less required of him by the front office, Billy Davis did not work out. Hopefully Horton is the guy, although many will speculate since he was not even considered to be Whisenhunt's first choice overall. He wasn't even considered the first or even second choice within the Steelers organization, as Keith Butler was believed to be the number one and Dick LeBeau was a dream, but would have been higher than Horton.
Whisenhunt's take? "He was one of the guys I wanted to interview." Fair enough.
Horton has plans on maintaining a 3-4 defensive scheme. When asked about if he would run the same type of defense as LeBeau, he responded saying that he "would implement some of those (LeBeau's schemes) with some ideas of my own."
Pressure on the quarterback appears to be his number one focus. "We're gonna get after the quarterback," he stated, and Arizona Republic writer Kent Somers tweeted jokingly that Horton made reference to pressure over 40 times in his time speaking to the media.
While the actual number may have been an exaggeration, it is clear that this is the goal he has with the Cardinals defense. It will certainly interesting to see what he does with the group of players because getting to the quarterback was a glaring weakness on the team.
When questioned about the toughest task he has, he didnt' bring up anything about personnel or coaches. His biggest concern was the possible lockout. His goal is to take his ideas and get them into Cardinals terms the payers are familiar with so that by the end of the month the players have a knowledge of the base of everything that will be done defensively. After that, of course, there will be " a learning curve" but he wants to get the players up to speed as quickly as possible.
What stood out in his time on at the podium was how he came across. He has never been a coordinator before, but he spoke like a man who knows exactly what he wants to achieve and that he has been waiting for a chance to be that defensive guy. He has coached for 17 years and has been calling defensive plays "forever," as he says, but just "hasn't been the guy calling them to the huddle."
While there has been chatter and jokes about how the Cards are the Steelers West or that there is some "Pittsburgh pipeline" or even that Arizona is where all the Stelers come to retire and relax, this move has a different feel. Whisenhunt seems and may well be very stubborn about bringing in "his" guys (and by his guys, we mean guys from Pittsburgh). The players and coaches that have been connected to the Steelers have been hit and miss.
Billy Davis was a miss. Joey Porter so far is a miss. Bryant McFadden was a miss. Special teams coach Kevin Spencer should be considered a hit. Clark Haggans has been solid. Alan Faneca was not dominant, but was not bad. Punter Ben Graham was solid in 2009 but took a step back this season.
In my opinion, Whiz does not have much room for error with this hire. It is the third coordinator he has had. He has confidence in Horton, as is evidenced by the three-year contract his new coordinator signed.
Obviously, there have been guys to come in a talk a good game (Dennis Green), but Horton came in and talked about attitude and philosophy, but not about winning percentages and graphs on posters. He certainly made a good impression.
If anything else, it has the appearance that Horton will come in with the idea of kicking the players in the pants and instilling some urgency. The defense played well enough a few games to show the fans that they were underachieveing more than they were undermanned.
In other news, it is reported that defensive backs coaches Donnie Henderson (who had a team option in his contract for 2011) and Rick Courtright were let go. This will facilitate the addition of defensive staff members that Horton wants, although Whisenhunt did say that all guys added would go through an interview process. One such name is former player (and not officially retired) DeShea Townsend, would would take a low-level position, working with the nickelbacks.