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Wolf: Steelers deny Cardinals, but Arizona still wins

I really wanted Keith Butler to be the next defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. Butler is very close to Ken Whisenhunt. Butler is certainly qualified, the understudy of Dick LeBeau. And he certainly would have Whisenhunt’s trust. It seemed too good to be true; it was.

The Steelers were obstructionists after all. Despite preliminary reports to the contrary, they denied the Cardinals request to interview Linebackers Coach, Keith Butler.

In fairness to the Rooney family, they have compensated Keith Butler very well to be that coordinator in waiting – even if it was just a verbal understanding. They do have him under contract through 2011. And it’s not like they haven’t done it before. They have denied Butler of interviewing twice before.

It appears the next defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals will be the Steelers secondary coach, Ray Horton. Being an employer’s third choice doesn’t sound like a dream scenario but in the end it may be what the Cardinals need.

The great irony of all this is that Ray Horton has a career path similar to that of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers current head coach who was chosen over Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm when Bill Cowher stepped away from the game in 2007. Although older, Horton has been a secondary coach in one form or another since 1994; Mike Tomlin was a secondary coach in one form or another for years. Horton has been the secondary coach for seven-years under legendary coordinator, Dick LeBeau; Mike Tomlin was the secondary coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for five-years under the tutelage of the great Monte Kiffin. Tomlin had never been a coordinator at any level before he got his opportunity with the Minnesota Vikings in 2006; Ray Horton has never been a coordinator at any level until now.

Although I wanted Butler because he has more experience than Horton, I don’t know if the Cards could have gone wrong with either of these men. Only time will tell going forward but one thing is certain: their time has been well spent.

Both have studied under Dick LeBeau for multiple seasons. They both are disciples of the 3-4 defense, extremely familiar with Mr. LeBeau’s fire-zone blitz and defensive schemes and come from one of the most successful franchises professional sports has produced. They both have worked with Whiz, too.

Whisenhunt worked with Horton for three-years in Pittsburgh but it would be accurate to say he does not share an off the field friendship with him that he does with Butler. Other than Butler’s slight edge in coordinator experience and NFL coaching experience as an assistant and the idiosyncrasies of personality, this seems to be the biggest difference between Horton and Butler.

Although friendship would never seem to be a bad thing when working together, there are some that do not believe it’s a good idea. Friends can be assuming, take liberties and cross boundaries. This is entirely acceptable in our leisure and often times expected; it’s what friends are entitled to do. Friendships are typically forged in the same kiln; we tend to gravitate toward those of like mind and enjoy the things we enjoy. Sometimes friends can think too much alike or as ancient Chinese Philosopher Mencius said, “Friendship is one mind in two bodies.”

But work is not about being like-minded, spending time together or being “one mind in two bodies” – especially in the NFL. Work is about winning.

In summation, I got a little greasy when Dick LeBeau had serious interest in joining Whiz in the Basin; I was not broken-hearted when he announced he was going to stay in Pittsburgh because I knew Butler was still a possibility. Now we know Butler is not coming. But I’m having a hard time feeling like the Cardinals lost in their search for a new defensive coordinator.

Ray Horton is qualified and deserving of this opportunity. Had Dick LeBeau’s name never surfaced or Keith Butler’s the prospects of picking Ray Horton from the Steelers staff would have excited me. He has every qualification you could ask for – even if he doesn’t play golf with Whiz while on vacation in Myrtle Beach every summer.