TEMPE, Ariz. - In a miserable season for his Arizona Cardinals, defensive co-ordinator Ray Horton is nonetheless a rising star in NFL coaching circles.
Expect Horton to be interviewed for some head coaching positions this off-season. Perhaps even in Arizona, should the Bidwill family decide to fire coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Horton was saying all the right things Friday after the team's final practice of the season.
"I would say today all I'm trying to do today is be the best D-coordinator in the league," he said. "I didn't do it because we didn't accomplish our goals and the rest of that stuff kind of takes care of itself. Usually teams that win more are rewarded that way."
But he did acknowledge it's every coach's goal to someday get the top job.
"That's what you're trying for," he said, "and if you prepare well you should be ready."
Last year, after his first season as the Cardinals' defensive co-ordinator, he was interviewed for the St. Louis job that eventually went to Jeff Fisher. Horton said there's no secret to having a good job interview.
"I think if you're confident in what you do, probably every interview would be good," he said. "I think I'm prepared, smart, knowledgeable, humble and everything that goes along with whatever that entails."
Horton was an assistant at Pittsburgh when Whisenhunt tabbed him to be Arizona's third defensive co-ordinator in five years. Horton has a year left on his contract, meaning he couldn't leave for another co-ordinator's job without the Cardinals' permission. He could, however, leave to take a head coaching job. His players certainly believe in him. Defensive end Calais Campbell says Horton would be an "awesome" head coach.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he had a lot of different offers because he's very talented at what he does," Campbell said. "He's smart, he understands the game, he's a great motivational speaker. I think he'll make a great head coach. He has that passion for winning."
There hasn't been much winning in Arizona, though. The Cardinals, after a 4-0 start, have dropped 10 of 11 and are huge underdogs at San Francisco. The problems almost entirely are the fault of the offence, especially poor play at quarterback. Arizona is starting Brian Hoyer at the position on Sunday less than three weeks after he was picked up on waivers from Pittsburgh.
The defence, on the other hand, ranks 12th in the NFL overall and is third against the pass.
The Cardinals' 22 interceptions are second in the NFL, one behind Chicago. Their 33 takeaways rank fourth in the league. Their opponent passer rating (68.5) is first in the NFL and their opponent completion percentage (54.1) is second only to Houston (53.2). Their 37 sacks are tied for 10th. The defensive superlatives, however, do not include run defence. The Cardinals are 28th in the NFL in that category.
Still, Horton gives his defence a B-plus for its performance.
"Personally I would have liked to have seen a couple of shutouts and maybe a couple of other scoring opportunities that we could have helped the offence," he said. "Probably over the season I'd probably take back no more than five plays, less than a handful, that I would love to call again."
Horton said there was never a serious rift between the defence and offence, despite the stark differences in the performances of the two units. He credited the makeup of his team.
"They are highly motivated and inspired," he said. "They play for themselves, meaning they have a lot of personal pride in their performance."
Whisenhunt gave the defence an overall good review.
"You'd have to say the defence has played well," he said. "I mean, we haven't done as good a job against the run game as we need to, but as far as turnovers and keeping us in games and making plays and scoring, the defence has done a great job."
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