BEREA, Ohio — Ray Horton doesn’t believe his skin color played any role in him not being hired as an NFL head coach.
It just wasn’t his time.
Introduced as Cleveland’s new defensive coordinator on Tuesday, Horton said while he’s “disappointed” that he didn’t get a head coaching job after interviewing with several teams, he’s grateful to have gone through the process and feels the league’s Rooney Rule to promote minorities works despite contrary statistics.
Minority candidates were shut out of 15 coaching and top front-office jobs this offseason, a troubling disparity that led to criticism of the NFL’s hiring practices. There are only four minority head coaches going into the 2013 season, the fewest since 2003, when the Rooney Rule was implemented.
Horton, however, feels he wasn’t bypassed because he’s African-American or because wears his hair in tight braids. There’s no doubt he’s got the credentials.
“I believe every NFL team owner is trying to get the best coach for their team,” he said. “I don’t think anybody goes into it thinking, `I’m going to hire this guy because of `X’ reason other than he’s going to lead the team to victories. So from that standpoint, I respect the process. So does it (the Rooney Rule) work or not work? I think it worked because I think every NFL team this year hired a guy that they thought was going to lead them to victory. I don’t think there was one owner that said, `I’m hiring this guy because I think he’s going to run my program into the ground.’ So does it work? Sure it works.”
Horton was one of the candidates who met with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner before they hired Rob Chudzinski, who spent the past two seasons as Carolina’s offensive coordinator. Horton noted that hiring offensive-minded coaches seemed to be this year’s trend.
The 52-year-old, who played in 147 career games as a defensive back for Cincinnati and Dallas, remains hopeful he’ll one day get his shot at being a head coach. But until that time arrives he won’t be bitter and he’s protesting against what appears to be an unequal system in a league where about 70 percent of the players are minorities.
“I wasn’t disappointed at all for minorities,” he said. “I was disappointed for Ray Horton. … I’m just disappointed because I have expectations. I have expectations for our team, for our defense. If you don’t meet them, you’re disappointed. I’m not mad. I’m not frustrated. Disappointment is the right adjective for me because you’re disappointed and you move on.”
Horton, who spent the past two seasons as Arizona’s defensive coordinator, can’t wait to get his hands on a young Cleveland defense he hopes to mold into one of the league’s best units.
After recently stating in a radio interview that he intended to switch the Browns from a 4-3 front to a 3-4, Horton refused to put any numerical label on the base scheme he’ll use next season.
“We’re going to look like an aggressive, forward attacking defense that has big men that can run and little men that can hit,” he said. “That’s the most important thing to me — what do we look like, not what we line up in. We may be a 3-4 on one snap. We may be a 4-3 on another snap. I guarantee you we’ll be a 5-2 sometimes, and we’ll be a 4-4 sometimes. We are a multi-front, attacking defense, and that’s the most important thing, not what player lines up where, how he stands, what stance he’s in. Attacking, aggressive defense.”
Fine with Chudzinski, who envisions a Browns defense with “guys flying around.”
“That style of defense, the multi-front, attacking defense is the defense that I looked at is the toughest to play against from an offensive perspective and the defense that we want to be here,” Chudzinski said.
Under Horton, the Cardinals’ defense ranked among the league leader in several statistical categories last season. Arizona was second in interceptions (22) and fourth in takeaways (33).
Horton has been breaking down game film as he evaluates Cleveland’s defense and he’s been impressed.
“I’ve got big men that can run, little men that can hit,” he said, drawing laughter at the catchphrase he repeated several times. “I love this team. I love the way it’s constituted right now because they give effort. From the first game against Philadelphia all the way through to the last game against Pittsburgh, I don’t see a dropoff of effort.
“If you can give me that for 16 weeks like they did, you don’t need anything else.”
Horton said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, known for his blitz-at-any-time style, has been a major influence on his life on and off the field.
“He treats every single person like they’re the most important person in the room,” Horton said of the Hall of Famer. “It’s a gift. Players love playing for coach LeBeau. That’s the highest form of respect that your players love playing for you.”
Horton hopes to build that type of relationship with his players in Cleveland. He has already been contacted by a few, including linebacker and captain D’Qwell Jackson. Horton views trust as an essential component, and he wants the Browns to believe in him from the start.
“I’m sure they have some apprehension about `Who is this guy? What’s he going to do? What’s that mean to me?” he said. “I just keep going back to as long as you do your job well, nobody has an issue.”