The Cleveland Browns must hire Ray Horton as their new head coach after passing on Chip Kelly (according to Fox Sports). The Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator is a smart fit to rebuild the Browns. He has already been interviewed and should now be considered the top candidate.
NFL.com reports that Kelly has opted to stay at Oregon, should not inspire doom and gloom from the Browns' faithful. Yes, Kelly's offensive expertise would have been useful, but Horton makes better sense in more ways.
The current strength of the Browns is their defense. However, while the unit is solid and capable, it has so far unfulfilled its potential to be dominant.
Horton's defensive nous can unleash that potential. He has wasted no time transforming the Cardinals unit from an underachieving bunch into a fearsome group.
He has done it with a varied and aggressive zone-blitz system that can work wonders in Cleveland. Although Horton ostensibly runs a 3-4 base, the Browns' 4-3 personnel offers good scheme crossover.
Several have operated a 3-4 in the past, under coaches like Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan. Horton would certainly make good use out of this defensive talent.
In Arizona, he built his front around hulking linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. He would be able to construct a similar scheme with Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor.
Horton also utilised a playmaking inside linebacker in Daryl Washington. The Browns' leading tackler, D'Qwell Jackson, certainly fits that mould.
Horton's star outside linebacker was rush end Sam Acho. Certainly, Jabaal Sheard possesses the athleticism and frame to succeed in a similar role.
Yet defensive excellence aside, Horton can offer other key qualities. Most notably, he has detailed knowledge of Cleveland's AFC North foes.
In particular, Horton knows the Browns' great nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers, very well. He coached on Dick LeBeau's defensive staff from 2004-10.
Browns fans would surely relish the prospect of seeing the Steelers having their own zone-blitzes unleashed on them for a change. More importantly, Horton knows the psyche of the division and what it takes to win in the North.
Those who would balk at his lack of offensive acumen should bear Horton's experience in Arizona in mind. He knows very well the damage that can be done to a team when a talented defense is left stranded by a woeful offense.
He is unlikely to want to repeat that pattern as the top man in charge. The appointment of an experienced offensive coordinator might also help.
Browns fans may be naturally hesitant about hiring another defensive-minded head coach, after their experiences with Crennel and Mangini. However, the painful truth is no coach has succeeded in Cleveland since the Browns' NFL return in 1999, no matter their background.
Horton is an intelligent, young coach whose stock is on the rise. He can turn a team strength into a true game-winner, and his division knowledge would be invaluable.
If the Browns are serious about finally building a winner, they won't wait long before appointing Horton.