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Extensive Search: Ray Horton

I can’t help but wonder if one of the 13 categories that GM Rick Spielman talked about in regards to  finding the next head coach for the Minnesota Vikings could be, Super Bowl Experience. Well, Ray Horton just happens to have three Super Bowl rings setting on his office desk. Horton hasn’t had the opportunity to win one as a head coach yet, but his time may be just around the corner.

Currently the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Horton’s job status is somewhat uncertain because the Browns are also looking to fill a vacant head coaching position as well.

Horton is ready to be a head coach in the NFL, but at the very least, Horton should be a front runner to fill one of the many vacant defensive coordinator positions available right now. Spielman’s willingness to interview Horton is a strong indication that the Vikings are ready to move away from the 4-3 cover two scheme.

Horton is well liked by his team because he frequently adjusts to his players strengths and weakness by incorporating what they like and feel confortable with. Horton is a detail-oriented coach who says his scheme is difficult to learn and that young players struggle to get playing time. Horton had the Steelers ranked in the top five in pass defense on a regular bases when he was a defensive backs coach in Pittsburgh from 2004-2010. As a defensive coordinator in Arizona from 2011-2012,  he took over a unit that was ranked 30th in points allowed, by 2012, Horton had the Cardinals ranked 12th in that category. Horton inherited a young team in Cleveland this year and had them ranked in the top ten after one season on the job.

 Ray Horton had an outstanding ten year career as a defensive back in the NFL playing for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Dallas Cowboys.

Three coaches have been very influential in shaping Ray Horton as a player and as a coach. Dick LeBeau the long time defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers and former head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2000-2002. Dave Campo a former head coach for the Cowboys who also served as Horton’s position coach during his playing days in Dallas. And Norv Turner who began Horton’s coaching career by hiring him as a defensive assistant with Washington in 1994. Turner is currently the offensive coordinator on the same staff with Horton in Cleveland.

 Horton is a good choice because I think he has solid connections with NFL masterminds that will help him put together a great staff when he lands a head coaching job. Horton and the Vikings may already have a couple big names on the radar.

Norv Turner wants out of Cleveland and he also has experience working with Spielman in Maimi during the 2002-2003 seasons. When Chan Gailey, Mike Shula and Norv Turner all move on to head coaching jobs, the proverbial poo-poo hit the fan for Spielman and Dave Wannstedt in Miami.

 Charlie Weis and Dave Campo are struggling a bit to turn the University of Kansas football program around after their first two years on the job, so a shot at a return to the NFL under Ray Horton might interest them. Jeff Davidson the current Vikings offensive line coach worked closely with Charlie Weis in New England. Also worthy to note, when Jeff Davidson was the offensive coordinator for John Fox in Carolina from 2007-2010, it was no coincident that Fox and Davidson selected Jimmy Clausen, a  Charlie Weis product from Nortre Dame with the 48th pick in the 2010 draft. 

Was Jeff Davidson a major influence in Spielman’s decision to bring Matt Cassel to the Vikings? Maybe that was why Frazier was slow to name Cassel the starter? 

Charlie Weis was named the offensive coordinator in 2010 for the Kansas City Chiefs under head coach Todd Haley. Matt Cassel had his highest QB rate of his career the one and only year he was a starting quarterback under Weis. Cassel connected on 58.2% of his attempts and threw for over 3,000 yards. He tossed a career best 27 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions in 2010 as the Chiefs starting quarterback . I wouldn’t be surprised if Davidson and Cassel are working behind the scenes at Winter Park lobbying for Charlie Weis to be the next offensive coordinator.

 Ken Whisenhunt hired Ray Horton as his defensive coordinator at Arizona in 2011. Whisenhunt is currently the offensive coordinator for the Chargers. Yes, I know it would be a cold day in San Diego and elsewhere before Whisenhunt would follow Horton to Minnesota for a coordinators position when he is currently rumored for head coaching jobs elswhere. However, if Horton is in the bag as (at the very least) a defensive coordinator, Whisenhunt could have some interest in the head coaching job with the Vikings.

 Whisenhunt has a 49-53 career record as a head coach guiding the Cardinals to two NFC Divisional Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance. Whisehunt’s offesive coordinator during his successful days in Arizona was Tood Haley. Haley went on to be the head coach at Kansas City and hired Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator. So, a similar system in Minnesota with a veteran quarterback like Matt Cassel could be the blue print for attracting Whisenhunt.

Don’t expect the Vikings to offer the head coaching job to Horton too quickly, but certainly count him as a serious candidate for either the head coaching  job or the defensive coordinator position.

Having Ray Horton and Charlie Weis or Norv Turner in the Vikings’ back pocket could play a major role in attracting Ken Whisenhunt to Minnesota in a few weeks. Especially if the Chargers have a long playoff run. The longer the Chargers stay in the playoff picture, the more likely other teams will go ahead and hire head coaches. The longer the Vikings can give Ray Horton real hope that he has a shot at the Vikings head coaching  job, the longer he will stays off the defesive coordinator market. If the lucky stars line up for Spielman, Ray Horton and Ken Whisenhunt both just might fall into place in Minnesota.

A similar system to what Whisenhunt had in Arizona, and a somewhat similar staff partually in place in Minnesota might be attractive to Whisenhunt. And if not… Horton can finish out the staff and lead this team as the head coach.

I’m hoping candidates like Ravens offesive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin will have a great week and take some major strides in filling a couple more of these head coaching vacancies. 


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Carl Knowles

Carl Knowles (Contributor) is a former member of the Professional Bowler Association and an avid lifelong Vikings fan. When he is not bowling you can find him on websites and forum pages sharing his creative insight and enthusiasm for the Minnesota Vikings any chance he gets. Carl was a Phoenix Institute of Technology and Purdue University standout who currently enjoys the challenge of being a graphic director in the printing business. You can follow him on twitter @carlknowles_vt.

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  1. good job, carl, you’ve put a lot of thought into this. that’s a lot of paths crossing there, with some good coordinator names. the trick is, who will make the best HC? we could have a big turnaround, helped by new coaching, like KC or NO, but only as long as we get our QB and defense playing better. i’m 99% sure we’re going to a 3-4 defense, and jared allen won’t be back. idk anything about horton, turner and the others suck as HCs, but as OCs they could be good, and i like whisenhunt, who might be hired before we get a crack at him. with no obvious standout choice, a HC from this group has to be kind of a breakout leader, so that’s a risk. of course, there’s no sure thing, just gotta hope we get it right

    i feel like we’ve got a bucket list club going on here at VT, and every swing and miss gobbles up another three years before we get a chance at a title. now we’ve got a chance to start over with both a new QB and a new coaching staff to get it done

    long day. glad the phackers lost, hehe

  2. Thanks Calvkg,
    I might be reading too much into the Jeff Davidson/John Fox/ Charlie Weis connection

    but it just seems odd that 2 of the Vikings targets are on John Fox’s staff right now.

    Dan Quinn worked with Charlie Weis at Florida just a couple years ago. Quinn has also worked with Jim Mora… Who did the Viking reach out to a few weeks ago?… Jim Mora

    Ray Horton’s long time coach/mentor/ friend works with Weis at Kansas

    I really believe that the Vikings have narrowed the list down to these 6 guys.

    Ken Whisenhunt (No news from Vikings, but he is on most team’ radar)
    Jack Del Rio
    Ray Horton
    Adam Gase
    Dan Quinn
    Darrell Bevell

    1. The only 2 on that list I don’t hate are Ken Wisenhunt and Danny Quinn. There’s multiple others i like but not on there.
      Also don’t overlook Josh McDaniels I think he’s Speilman’s type. McDaniels is smart, very smart and meticulous just like Speilman. McDaniels time in Denver worries me but he did build one Helluva team.

      1. I think Spielman and Frazier interviewed McDaniels in the past for OC position. He turned it down for the Patriots job.

        I am surprised his name has not been linked to the Vikings at this point.

        1. Likely because McDaniels is expected to get the Browns gig. Makes a lot of sense with Lombardi there.

  3. Ray Horton is the only guy they can hire right now from the current list of coaches.
    Denver and the Chargers play this Sunday… things will get serious for the Vikings after that.

    I’m seeing reports that Detroit wants Whisenhunt… The problem is Whisenhunt might want Ray Horton as DC (he has in the past) and Detroit does not want to switch to a 3-4. Horton is a 3-4

  4. Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini were Patriot coaches that were successful pulling guys away from Bill Belichick.

    Romeo Crennel pulled Jeff Davidson away in 2005 with the Brown.

    Dan Quinn didn’t coach for the Patriots but he was hired by Eric Mangini with the jets in 07-08 and worked with Charlie Weis at Florida in 2011. So he has some Patriot tree connections

    I believe very strongly that coaches develop an inner circle of trust with certain coaches.

    I think the Vikings are working through some of that with Jeff Davidson right now.

    When this all settles… and a staff is hired and in place… Look for Jeff Davidson to get the assistant head coach title next to his offensive line duties.

  5. I might ad Mike Zimmer’s name to my list if the Vikings schedule an interview him this week.

  6. I personally like Jay Gruden more, but I’m seeing reports that he is generating a buzz in Washington and also Detroit.

  7. Sounds like they are requesting interviews with ALL of the guys we’ve been discussing plus Greg Roman of San Fran.

  8. Just as long as our new HC does away with the Tampa 2 and realizes the talent the Vikes actually have and utilizes it.

  9. I am seeing this issue in a much longer perspective. The real issue here is the ongoing change of head coaches for the Vikings. It is embarrassing that we will now have had four head coaches within what, 10 years? Looking for the miracle worker is no way to run a football franchise. This organization has got to learn to get someone for the long haul and commit to them. Tice had to go. Childress had to go. Frazier had to go. Anyone see a pattern here? You can bet that the potential coaches who are considering this job notice that pattern. Around the league, you can be assured that many saw the firing of Frazier as a red flag to how things are run here.

    1. I completely agree with you coach and sincerely hope that this time around they find the right guy that they can stick with. I don’t disagree with them for the firings they have made though, and think it was more an indication of them acting too quickly in making a hire without a true GM than anything else. If Tice hadn’t had so many off-field issues (including his own SB ticket scalping incident) I would say he was the one guy they should have given a bigger opportunity too since he was given an unrealistic budget for his support staff by Red. They hired Chilly too fast and despite the fact that I loathed the man by the time they fired him, he really was the best suited head coach they hired in regards to his ability to put together a staff. He had an eye for that and three of the guys he hired have already or are likely to be head coaches in the league (Tomlin, Frazier, and Bevell). Ultimately he couldn’t communicate with players, or the humanoid race for that matter, and that along with his arrogance cost him. Then we have Frazier who was the perfect antidote for the communication-challenged Chilly, but he was to far on the other side of the fence in my opinion. His over the top loyalty to veteran players is great if your one of those players, but when we start seeing younger guys get pushed into the lineup because of injuries and their play is as good or better than the guy they were replacing, it makes you wonder if Frazier was ignoring progress on the practice field for too long. Frazier’s issues with game-day adjustments, whether his fault or the fault of the staff he hand-picked (I don’t believe we’ve lost any of his assistants to promotions in the NFL in his three years here) were also a big deal to me. Frazier is a good defensive coordinator and a critical player ally to have on any coaching staff, but it’s hard to be that guy and the head coach at the same time. I hope by taking their time they will find a guy who has the best qualities in all of the previous head coaches this ownership group has gone through, and if they do find a guy they can believe in, they should stick with him even if he has a bad season. I really hope we get a coach who will be here for the next decade or more, but I can understand why ownership felt the need to move on from each of the last three guys.

      1. There’s part of my point, Dan. “…even if he has a bad season.” Putting a bad season together with a GM who does not effectively understand why the bad season occurred, but instead seeks to solve his own shortcomings by changing coaches, is a classic example of where we were at the end of this season. There is not a coach in this world that was going to take Spielman where he wants to go with that gathering of QB’s and a marginal roster of DB’s and LB’s. Leslie had no choice but to stick with Ponder in an effort to develop a franchise QB, yet he basically gets fired for doing so. Spielman basically says, thanks for finding out Ponder is not our guy, now, hit the road.

        The teams with stability at coach understand why these seasons happen, even if the season ticket holders aren’t happy about the last few games they attended. Every fan disagrees with the coach during a 5-10 season, but the Vikings were moving in a better direction than this firing recognizes, especially given the QB status. As I have said before, how do we take that group and rank 14th in the league in yards? Now.. we start the whole thing over again, trying to convince a coach to come to an organization who fires one every few years.

        1. in a world with jets, drive-throughs, microwave ovens, cnn, email, skype, twitter, instant messaging, and soon-to-be drone deliveries, patience is a lost art

        2. Just to play devils advocate here, I think there were greater issues than the 5-10 record this year that made this move happen. Two of our biggest issues this past season personnel-wise were QB and CB. Honestly I can’t understand why people continue to ignore the fact that Frazier also deserves responsiblity for the drafting of Christian Ponder. I think it’s important to remember that the reason Frazier no longer had final say in roster moves was because he decided he had to have McNabb as a starter AFTER they drafted Ponder, who was supposed to be the most NFL ready QB in that draft (something I’ve always thought bought him extra points with the Vikings). I do think the final decision on Ponder came down to Spielman as he has pretty much admitted to it, but if Frazier and the group of coaches he put together did not endorse the move, I don’t believe it would have happened because Frazier had a lot of say in personnel matters at that point. As far as the secondary goes, we’ve been lead to believe that Spielman and the scouts work with the coaching staff to find out what traits they want in players. I can’t for the life of me understand why the three highest drafted corners we’ve taken the last four years (Cook, Robinson, and Rhodes) would have been selected if Frazier and his staff weren’t asking for guys who were known for man-press coverage. Also, it sure sounds like the decision to draft Chris Cook came with a heavy endorsement from Frazier based on the comments Cook made after Leslie was dismissed (and I know Cook was technically a Chilly draft, but Fraziers up close meetings with him make it relevant). Really there’s only two explanations for this. One, Frazier has quietly sat back and watched Spielman deliberately put together a roster he couldn’t win with in which case Leslie was screwed anyway and should count his dismissal as a blessing…or Two, Spielman has given these coaches what they asked for and has watched the staff fail to utilize them in the way he thought they would. If thats the case, than there was no reason for Spielman and company to move forward with Frazier. You have to have the right guy in place before you give them a mulligan for a poor record, Spielman didn’t think Frazier was the right guy so moving on is the correct thing to do. The situation in Atlanta this year is more what I’m talking about as far as not firing a coach after a poor season. If they had fired Mike Smith after all that teams success that would be an atrocious move, but Smith and the GM have already prooven to be a good team.

          1. I respect your points here, Dan, some good observations, but don’t kid yourself… there is ALWAYS a good reason to fire a coach when the brass decides to do so. The bottom line is, we’re doing it too often. Like I said, it’s being noted out there in potential coach land, and it will impact this hire.

            1. I agree with you too Coach. I’m just hoping that Spielman can use the fact that it’s his first time picking a coach here to ease those concerns, but it could definitely impact a veteran guy like Zimmer’s decision. Atleast our stadium situation is solved this time around. Sure we have to play at TCF for two years, but atleast they can say the team will be playing in the state of Minnesota for the forseeable future.

  10. It appears they are giving strong consideration to Todd Bowles, led a very good AZ defense this year. If nothing else, wouldn’t mind seeing him as DC.

    1. LOL, yeah, we’ve also read separate tweets that the job is both Gruden’s and Zimmers to lose. I don’t think anyone knows what’s actually going on out there. Don’t sleep on the college coaches either. One of the biggest keys to hiring a college coach is to keep it quiet until the move actually happens so they don’t have issues with their recruiting class should it not happen. If they are serioulsy interested in a college coach, the fact that we aren’t hearing anything would mean Spielman is doing a good job.

      1. I agree, I think Spielman is doing a good job.
        The reports on Todd Bowels and Ray Horton should be “glowing”… but that doesn’t mean they will be hired right away… the Vikings will be in need of a DC in the very near future, so I’m sure the Vikings will roll out the red carpet now, talk them up, and treat them special.

        College coaches may wait to interview until they know they are one of the top 1 or 2 guys on a teams list. Right now, it seems most of the NFL teams want to interview as many NFL assistants as the can.

        1. One part of the process that gets over looked is that it is just not interviewing the candidates themselves, but what assistants they would like to bring along and how well they would fit in with the Vikings,

  11. I would be elated to say the least if the Vikes get Zimmerman on board. The defence cost us 5 games last year in the final minutes. That close to be a 10 win team. Which by the way, would have taken the division.

  12. HC needs to be someone that can manage Johnny Football…..stars are aligning for him to land in Minny. (although we already have our Johnny football here at VT!)

  13. Take a look at this breakdown of Patterson’s run/pass option against the Lion. Two things:

    1) Why Patterson didn’t pass it to Greg Jenning is anyone’s guess, dude was wide open.
    2) As your old pal Fragile has been saying all year, someone needs to talk to Jenning about run blocking. The guy just doesn’t do it consistently or even often. Take a look at the lack of effort by Jenning to even get in a position to help. Even Simpson, sacked up and got in the play.

  14. Wow! Still no peep from winter park. Jay Gruden is scheduled as of right now to interview tomorrow. I wonder if the Vikes will see him or not.

  15. Mike Zimmer’s D has ranked 4th, 7th, 8th, and 3rd the last three years. I like this kind of hire, as long as it’s coupled with the hiring of a dynamic O coordinator.