Cardinals' choice: Horton vs. offensive mind

Cardinals' choice: Horton vs. offensive mind

Published Jan. 15, 2013 1:33 p.m. ET

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The most intriguing out-of-house possibility is no longer a possibility for the Arizona Cardinals. Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has agreed to coach the Chargers, removing a potential leading candidate for the Cardinals head coaching job.

That leaves defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden among the known candidates, although the list remains fluid. Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network reported late Tuesday that the Cardinals intend to interview Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who played high school football in Scottsdale, and have also requested permission to speak with Indianapolis coordinator Bruce Arians.

McCoy’s decision makes sense. The quarterback guru who squeezed production out of Jake Delhomme and Tim Tebow inherits a Chargers club with 31-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers has thrown 48 interceptions the past three seasons but still has 83 TD passes over that same span, a career passer rating of 94.5 and a history of success.

The AFC West is also a better place to be than the NFC West these days. The Broncos are still a power with aging quarterback Peyton Manning, but the Raiders and Chiefs are dreadful. Compare that to six games a year against the 49ers, Seahawks and rapidly improving Rams.

There will be plenty of public angst over the Cards missing the boat on several candidates, but the simple reality is that Arizona is not as attractive a job to candidates as places like Chicago or San Diego. Some of it has to do with the unsettled QB situation here; some of it has to do with the market.

Of the remaining candidates, it is difficult to gauge who has the lead. The Cards have shown a clear fascination with offensive-minded coaches, and Horton is not one. He was asked recently if he feared being pigeon-holed as a defensive guy. He insisted that does not concern him, but maybe it should.

If Horton does land the job, it would smooth the transition since many of the players, particularly on the defensive side, are familiar with him. To give him the job, though, the Cards must take a leap of faith that he can address their offensive woes without much of a track record. Part of that will mean bringing in the right offensive coordinator and assistants. Norv Turner’s name has been mentioned, but multiple reports have him heading to Cleveland to join Rob Chudzinski’s new staff.

The Cardinals still have not confirmed they conducted an interview with Haley, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Haley asked for the world to take the Arizona job. Despite his recent track record here, Haley did not fare altogether well in his last two stops in Kansas City, where he was fired after three seasons, and Pittsburgh, where he was at odds with QB Ben Roethlisberger in his first year as OC.

Haley is a fiery personality, one who some locally believe could push the Cards to new heights and mesh with team president Michael Bidwill’s personality. But that’s a double-edged sword. Haley rubs many the wrong way, and that approach can wear thin quickly as a head coach.

As for Gruden, this has no bearing on whether he will be the next coach, but he did not wow in his media session following his interview here last week. It almost felt as if Gruden knew he was window dressing in the Cards’ coaching search.

More to the point, his accomplishments in two seasons in Cincinnati do not scream of smashing success. The Bengals' offense ranked 22nd in the NFL in yards this season at 332.7 per game but was 12th in scoring at 24.4 points per game and 17th in passing at 223.6 yards per game. Last season, the Bengals' offense ranked 20th overall (319.9 yards per game), 18th in scoring (21.5 points per game) and 20th in passing at 208.8 yards per game.

McCoy's decision seemed to have cleared the path for Horton. But as more names surface and the search is prolonged, it could be interpreted as a clear sign that the Cards are not ready to make that leap of faith with Horton. Maybe it's just the Cardinals doing their due diligence, but if they're not ready to commit to Horton, they had better be prepared to lose him next season when his contract expires.  Horton wants a head coaching gig, and that sort of slight won’t sit well with him.