The average shelf life for a defensive coordinator under Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is two years.
In the NFL, head coaches don’t like coaching on one year deals, essentially because they have little leverage with players under those terms.
Ken Whisenhunt has three years left on a contract that was extended before last season, and Wednesday he hired Ray Horton to be his defensive coordinator. In assuming the role Horton becomes the Cardinals’ third defensive coordinator in the head coach’s five seasons with the club.
How much time do you think they both have to turn things around? What happens if they don’t?
While recognized as a good move by the Cardinals, I’m here to tell you one simple, yet notable fact: Horton will be the last defensive coordinator Whisenhunt hires as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
First, let me get this out of the way: I like the hire. I
think Horton could be just what the defense needs in order
to start playing to its potential. He plans on coaching an
aggressive defense and he comes across very well in
interviews. An intelligent coach, he was trained by some
of the very best. While he’s never been a coordinator
before, I have no problem with hiring an up-and-comer – as
long as he gets the job done. He’s going to have to if The
Whiz wants to stick around.
Seriously, could you imagine the Bidwills watching their
coach fire a third defensive coordinator? Now, if Horton
goes the Todd Haley route and gets a head coaching job
somewhere else the argument is moot. But if the defense
underachieves, again, and the team struggles, again, the
front office will not be able to look past another miscue.
They’ll have to make a change, and it would start at the
top of the coaching staff.
Granted, Whisenhunt should get a pass on the first guy he
canned. He inherited Clancy Pendergast from Dennis Green
and kept him at the behest of ownership. While
Pendergast’s scheme had some success, it never produced a
top-flight unit. Granted, the defense played a much
underrated role in the Cardinals reaching the Super Bowl
in 2008, but it was a letdown on that side of the ball
that cost the Cards the Lombardi Trophy. Not long after it
also cost Pendergast his job.
At the time the move was fairly well received. Pendergast
was never a “Whiz guy” to begin with, and the coach who
just took the team to the Super Bowl had every right to
have a staff full of guys he wanted. Whisenhunt finally
had enough cache to convince his bosses to let him cut
ties with a coordinator he probably never really wanted to
begin with. However, when he was not able to land his
rumored first choice, Keith Butler, he ended up settling
for his linebackers coach Bill Davis. The move did not win
the press conference that day, and over the course of the
next two seasons Davis’ defense did not win many games on
the field. So, he lost his job and Coach Whiz got to try
Enter Horton. While Horton may be the consolation prize, everything in
his background suggests he may turn out to be an excellent
hire. An expert in the 3-4 defense, the Cardinals finally
have a coordinator qualified to run the defense the head
coach has wanted since he was hired. Whether or not they
have the necessary talent is irrelevant; at this point in
his tenure if Whisenhunt has been unable to acquire the
right players to run his defense then he’s either failed
in talent evaluation or failed in adapting to the talent
he has. Either way it’s failure.
Big picture, maybe Pendergast wasn’t the guy to run a 3-4
defense. And I’ll roll with the idea that Davis didn’t
come from the right system and therefore didn’t know how
to run an aggressive, attacking defense. None of that can
be said for Horton, meaning Whiz finally has his
guy. Ironic, though, that Whiz’s guy has the key to the
head coach’s job security.