Dallas Cowboys: Ray Horton

If Cowboys stick with 3-4 defense ...

January, 8, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- In the interests of covering our backsides, let’s look at possible 3-4 candidates should the Cowboys stick with that scheme but employ a different look.

Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton was on Jason Garrett’s radar as a secondary coach two years ago -- not coordinator -- but he has become a head coaching candidate in two years of running the Cardinals defense. He learned from Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh’s zone-blitz architect, and would have pieces in place to run that style here.

Romeo Crennel comes from the Bill Parcells coaching tree. He has Super Bowl experience. Players love playing for him and he keeps the scheme interesting. He has had two tries as a head coach and it hasn’t worked out, but his style might fit well with Garrett.

Could the Cowboys look to the college ranks for a coordinator? Garrett worked with Todd Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator, when Grantham coached the Cowboys' defensive line under Wade Phillips. Grantham has an attacking style and has a defense that is filled with NFL-ready players. Given his SEC ties, he could provide good insight on players in the draft. He also has NFL coordinator experience (Cleveland) and, like Garrett, worked for Nick Saban.

What I think Rob Ryan's firing could mean

January, 8, 2013

Well, it turns out Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wasn't just blowing smoke when he said on the radio last week that things were about to get uncomfortable around Valley Ranch. If you're a Cowboys coach right now, you can't be feeling comfortable at all. Running backs coach Skip Peete was let go Monday, and ESPNDallas.com reports that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been fired as well.

Ryan seems like an odd move in some ways. I mean, yes, the Cowboys finished 19th in the league in defense in terms of yards allowed and 24th in terms of points allowed, but they did lose five starters and their nickel cornerback to injury along the way, which is the kind of thing that can generally get a coordinator a break. Hard to really judge Ryan's performance considering he didn't really have his team.

And it remains to be seen what else happens, as there's some chatter in Dallas about the possibility of Jones taking play-calling responsibilities away from head coach Jason Garrett and hiring an offensive coordinator. But assuming Ryan's dismissal turns out to be the Cowboys' biggest offseason change, it could actually signify continued support for Garrett. The reason I say that is because it's a change that doesn't really strike at Garrett's authority over the offense. It allows Jones to make a big, heads-will-roll splash without undermining the coach in whom he's placed and professed so much long-term faith. Heck, it could even allow Garrett to have more input into the hiring of the new defensive coordinator than he had in the hiring of Ryan two years ago (when, it is believed, he preferred Ray Horton).

It could also allow the Cowboys, if they so choose, to switch to a 4-3 defense, which some have suggested might suit their personnel better. Whether they do that or not could depend on which defensive coordinator they hire to replace Ryan. If they hire Lovie Smith, for instance, expect that they're making that switch. If they hire Horton or Mike Pettine or someone like that, that would signify a desire to stay in the 3-4.

So if this is part of a larger slate of firings still to come, all bets are off and everybody's really uncomfortable in Valley Ranch. But if Ryan's firing is the big-splash move to which Jones was alluding when he talked "change" last week, there's a chance it could portend more power for Garrett instead of less. I admit I don't know which way it will go, but as we watch the Cowboys' offseason continue to unfold, it's worth looking for signs of whether Jones is wavering on Garrett or doubling up on his determination to stand behind him and try to make him successful.

Jason Garrett meets with coaches

January, 7, 2012
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett met with some coaches in the last few days to talk about their status with the organization. Several coaches, Dave Campo, Brett Maxie, Skip Peete, Hudson Houck, Wes Phillips and Keith O'Quinn, entered the last year of their contracts.

It isn't known if these coaches were retained by Garrett, but Campo, the secondary coach offered a "no comment" when asked about his status with the team.

The Cowboys tried to replace Campo last season with Ray Horton, who was the secondary coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Horton became the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.

Houck is the highest paid offensive line coach in the NFL, at $1 million a season, and it appears he along with Maxie, the safeties coach will return.

Phillips has a close relationship with Garrett, but he might leave to join his father, Wade Phillips in Houston. The Cowboys seemed to be pleased with Peete, the running backs coach, who worked with rookie DeMarco Murray, who rushed for a team-high 897 yards.

O'Quinn, the offensive quality control/wide receivers coach, who is well-respected, could also return.

Pursuit of Horton didn't bother Dave Campo

February, 17, 2011
IRVING, Texas -- Dave Campo did not consider the Cowboys’ pursuit of Ray Horton an insult.

Campo would have moved to an unspecified role if the Cowboys could have hired Horton after the Super Bowl to coach the secondary. However, it became a moot point when Horton, who had been the Steelers’ secondary coach, accepted Arizona’s offer to become the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator.

Campo, who coached Horton during his four seasons as a Cowboys safety, never felt like his job security was in question. He just wasn’t sure what his role would be.

And Campo, the former Cowboys head coach with more than two decades of NFL experience, gave no indication that he was offended that Jason Garrett considered hiring another secondary coach. Campo said his preference was always to remain in an on-field coaching position, but he appreciated Garrett’s honesty with him about the interest in Horton.

“I knew I was going to be part of the staff regardless of what,” Campo said. “Jason made it very clear to me right from the beginning that he wanted to get some new ideas and some new things in, which I think he’s done a great job of with the guys he’s added to the staff.

“I did not know exactly what my role was going to be, but he made it clear to me that he wanted me to be here and to be part of it and to help him. That’s all I really care about at this point in my career.”

Ray Horton expected to go to Arizona

February, 9, 2011
It'd be considered a major surprise if Ray Horton accepts the Cowboys' offer to become their secondary coach.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports that Horton is meeting with the Cardinals on Wednesday to finalize a deal to become Arizona's defensive coordinator.

It would have been interesting to see how Horton, a hard-nosed Dick LeBeau disciple who won a Super Bowl ring as a Cowboys safety, could have maximized Mike Jenkins' potential. That would have been a tough-love relationship, based on Horton's comments about Jenkins when asked about the Cowboys cornerback during Super Bowl week.

"I didn't want him at the time because he wouldn't tackle," Horton told ESPN.com's Matt Mosley. "If you're going to play for us, you have to be able to tackle."

Jenkins' regression last season under secondary coach Dave Campo was alarming. It apparently could get Campo demoted. The Cowboys probably won't get Horton, but it's clear that Jason Garrett believes a change needs to be made at secondary coach.

Cowboys trying to hire Ray Horton

February, 8, 2011
Not only are the Cowboys about to hire a defensive line coach, Brian Baker, but it appears the team is also trying to get Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton.

According to a source, the team would like to hire Horton, who spent four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the defensive backs coach.

Horton, however, is a candidate to become the defensive coordinator with Arizona and according to the Arizona Republic could be hired by the Cardinals as soon as Wednesday.

Before the Cowboys hired Rob Ryan as their defensive coordinator, Horton's name surfaced as a possible candidate. Horton said last week he did not speak with the Cowboys but was hopeful he would get a chance to become a defensive coordinator, something he's never done before.

Dave Campo is currently the Cowboys secondary coach but it's undetermined what role he would have with the organization if Horton is hired.

Jerry Jones said last month that all the coaches that attended the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala., would be retained, and that included Campo.

Steelers wanted no part of Mike Jenkins

February, 2, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers win on such a consistent basis that they rarely have draft picks in the top half of the first round. On Tuesday, I talked to several members of the organization about what they look for in players via the draft or free agency. I'm writing a column Thursday about why the Cowboys have fallen off the map in terms of playoff success over the past 15 years, and I thought the Steelers (and the Packers) might provide a good point of reference.

Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton, who once won a Super Bowl as a safety for the Dallas Cowboys, brought up Ryan Clark as an example. The former Redskins safety gets lost in Troy Polamalu's shadow a lot of the time, but he's invaluable to the Steelers' success on defense. Clark's started 44 games for the Steelers over the past three seasons.

"When he's on the field, you don't notice him," Horton told me Tuesday. "But when he was out earlier this season, we're saying, 'What's going on out there?' He's not flashy, but everything runs smoothly when he's on the field. You have to have those types of players to be successful."

Horton told me that when he's preparing for the draft, he's constantly asking himself the question, 'Would I want my job depending on that guy?'

Since Horton still keeps up with the Cowboys from afar and was actually mentioned as a candidate at defensive coordinator, I asked what he thought of Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins when he was coming out of South Florida three years ago.

"I didn't want him at the time because he wouldn't tackle," said Horton. "If you're going to play for us, you have to be able to tackle. Or you need to be picking off a lot of balls."

Jenkins appeared to put it all together in '09 as he made his first Pro Bowl team. But he regressed in 2010, and as Horton predicted, tackling is not one of Jenkins' strengths. In fact, there are two painful reminders for Cowboys fans ('08 and '10) of Jenkins going out of his way to avoid contact with ballcarriers.

I think the Cowboys' secondary was undermined by an inconsistent pass-rush this past season. But Jenkins still had a poor season. Perhaps having the Steelers and Packers in town for a week will help Jerry Jones have a first-hand look at how successful teams are built.

Or he could just keep doing it his way.