The Cardinals finally answered one of the three big questions facing the team after a horrible 2010 season. They named a defensive coordinator today, Ray Horton, from, of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers staff. It has become a joke here and in Pittsburgh that the Arizona team is really Steelers West. If you do not have a Steelers pedigree, be it Cardinals coach or player, chances are you will soon be replaced by someone who does. Such is the insecurity of the head coach, Ken Whisenhunt.
The Whiz’s top three choices, if you’re dumb enough to believe what you read, were, in order, Dick LeBeau, Keith Butler and, hoo-ray, hoo-ray, Horton. All coaches last season for the Super Bowl runners-up Steelers. LeBeau the 70-something guru and coordinator was not going anywhere. Certainly he was not going to make a career change at that age and start over in Arizona with a defense that was light years from where the Steelers were in ’10. The other pipe-dream the Cardinals would have you believe was Butler, the linebackers coach and reputedly a close friend of Whisenhunt’s. And why would the Cardinals think he could leave? He is under contract and the Steelers sweetened the pot a year ago so he would not leave for a coordinator’s job with Miami. He is supposedly the heir-apparent to LeBeau. Anyway the Cardinals figure it will make them look good if they throw the names of LeBeau and Butler about. So that leaves only Horton, the secondary coach, the Steelers were apparently not going to rehire. In other words, there was no diligent search for a coordinator. It was Horton all the time, or so it appears.
Horton may turn out to be a great fit for the Cardinals. But there is nothing on his resume to suggest that. He will soon be 51 and has spent his entire NFL coaching career as a secondary coach. This in a league that has an eager eye for young coaching talent and will promote that talent very quickly. That it has taken more than 15 years for anyone to recognize the genius in Ray Horton does not seem to bode a brilliant future for the Cardinals defense, which clung to the bottom rungs on the stats charts last season.
One can easily argue that coordinators are only as good as their players. But look what Kansas City did last year. The Chiefs hire two high-dollar coordinators, Romeo Crennel on defense and Charlie Weis on offense, and they zipped in to the playoffs from a 2009 season that was even worse than the Cardinals in ’10.
Time will tell. But on the surface it appears the hiring of Ray Horton is another cost-friendly decision by the owning Bidwill family, who pulled in financial horns last year, shed talent and replaced it with aging veterans like Joey Porter and Alan Faneca. And too the Horton hire does not paint a rosy picture for the other two big questions: Who will be the starting quarterback? Will their super-talented wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, sign a new contract with the team or move on?
That’s of course forgetting the largest question: Will there be a full 2011 season if a Collective Bargaining Agreement takes as long to achieve as it now seems it might?