Arizona Cardinals: 4 Top Remaining Candidates For Defensive Coordinator Position
In a surprise turn-around from the reports circulated earlier, the Cardinals have been denied permission to speak to Keith Butler of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Butler, who is still considered the eventual replacement for Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh, had been expected to be granted permission to interview for the vacant coordinator job and was believed to be the forerunner for the position.
However, apparently believing that LeBeau will likely retire before Butler's current contract expires, Steelers President, Art Rooney II, blocked the Cardinals advances, and prevented Butler from speaking to the Arizona franchise, or any other interested party.
As a result, the Cardinals have been forced to consider other options.
Who could they be?
Join me as we run down the four most likely remaining candidates.
Luke is a Featured Columnist for the Arizona Cardinals on Bleacher Reporter. He also covers the Arizona Cardinals for Sports Haze Phoenix. Follow him on twitter www.twitter.com/lukebunger and Sports Haze,www.sportshaze.com/phoenix
4: Darren Perry: Safeties Coach, Green Bay Packers.
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Although not formally linked to the Cardinals, as no reports have surfaced indicating that they have asked permission to speak to him, Darren Perry may remain a consideration for the Cardinals if no-one else steps out as a leading candidate.
He had previously expressed a strong interest in stepping up to a coordinator position, saying before the Super Bowl, "Right now, my mind is focusing on beating the Pittsburgh Steelers… When the (defensive-coordinator) opportunity comes up, I'm more than ready and I'm looking forward to it."
With the Steelers successfully dealt with, Perry can now look forward to progressing up the Coaching ladder, and a coordinator position may be forthcoming, following the success of his safeties group in the championship game—which included a pick-six by Free Safety Nick Collins.
Perry has links to the Cardinals, having previously coached at the Steelers with Whisenhunt from 2003-2006. He understands the sort of defense that the Cardinals hope to run, having coached under LeBeau, and helping run an almost identical defense in Green Bay.
As a safeties coach, he would also understand how to scheme around some of the Cardinals strongest assets on defense, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes.
He has also acted as defensive backs coach, understanding the Corner position too, another one of the Cardinals assets which failed to live up to expectations in 2010.
Though all current indications make it difficult to consider Perry a leading candidate yet, a lot can change during interviews, and, unlike the Steelers, the Packers have a policy of not blocking assistants from interviewing for promotions, so if all of the other candidates fail to impress, Perry could still get the call.
3: Winston Moss: Assistant Head Coach/ILB Coach, Green Bay Packers
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Moss is a veteran coach, and experienced leader.
In addition to his assistant head coaching duties, Moss coaches the Packers linebackers, one of the Cardinals main weaknesses, and could help identify key talent at this position.
Although he has never run his own defense, as an assistant head coach to Mick McCarthy, Moss has shown clear, and significant leadership in the organisation.
During the Super Bowl media day, Moss made it clear that coordinating, and even head coaching were his ultimate goals, and is expected to take any such job, if offered it.
"There are only rumors working right now, but I got into this, coaching, to coordinate," he said.
"I had a passion about calling plays, being very, very competitive. That ability intrigues me and challenges me.
"I feel as though I can bring out the best in players, bring out the best in me. I would dearly look forward to a challenge to be a championship coordinator."
Unlike all of the other names linked with the vacant position, Moss has no direct links to Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, or the Cardinals.
Whisenhunt has previously demonstrated a clear preference for coaches he has previously worked with, which could be a stumbling block for the coach, but the fact that the Cardinals have officially requested permission to speak to him may play into his favor.
2: Todd Bowles: Assistant Head Coach/Secondary Coach, Miami Dolphins
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Todd Bowles interviewed with the Arizona Cardinals prior to the Super Bowl, and, reportedly, performed very well.
Bowles remains under contract with Miami Dolphins as their secondary coach, as well as assistant head coach.
However, it is well known that Bowles views himself as being ready to step up and call plays, and many agree that the position has been a long time coming.
Reports suggest that the interview was positive and those close to the organisation claim that Coach Whisenhunt was “wowed” by his former colleague.
Bowles and Whisenhunt coached together at the Jets in 2000, and he also has close links to Cardinals Offensive Line coach Russ Grimm—the two having played together at the Redskins in the 1980’s.
Like Moss, Bowles is not just a position coach, but also assists the Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano.
Bowles is known for his vision, in particular having taken the dolphins secondary from 24th in passing yards allowed in 2009 to eighth overall in 2010. A natural leader, Bowles could be a perfect fit for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals defense has been porous throughout the year, and, for this reason, Bowles is now said to be a “very strong candidate” to land the coordinator job in Arizona
1: Ray Horton: Secondary Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers.
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In the absence of Keith Butler, Ray Horton has been widely tipped as the Cardinals new runaway favorite to get the nod.
Unlike Butler, Horton—the Steelers secondary coach, who is out of contract following the end of the 2010 season—does not need permission to speak to the Cardinals, and is expected to begin discussions later today.
These discussions are considered by many, to be a formality. Horton and Whisenhunt know each other well, and the discussions are expected to center around hammering out the specifics of the contract, rather than being a true interview.
Horton is an experienced coach, and has helped mould the Steelers secondary unit into one of the top performing pass defenses in the league.
Troy Polamalu was named defensive player of the year for 2010, and in spite of an uninspiring performance in the Super Bowl, is still considered one of the greats to play at that position.
He respects Horton a lot, saying of his current secondary coach
"[Horton has] the toughest job on this team, coaching the secondary," in an interview regarding potential coaches for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"He's been here a long time and he's handled that. He has an in-depth understanding of the defense Coach LeBeau teaches, and he has an in-depth understanding of what the offense is doing, personnel groups, percentages."
These are great things for the Cardinals, and defensively minded head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who would love to bring the defensive philosophy he experienced in Pittsburgh to the Cardinals.
There could be a potential spanner in the works, as Horton reportedly already has an offer from the Dallas Cowboys, which early reports indicated that he had already accepted.
Although that now appears not to be the case, and the Cowboys cannot currently offer him a defensive coordinator position, he would remain a position coach.
There are, however some indications that the Cowboys, and wealthy owner Jerry Jones, could sway the negotiations by offering Horton the assistant head coach position, coupled with a sizable salary, and even an implicit "line of succession" plan laid out for him.
All of this seems somewhat unlikely, given that he is still preparing to sit down with Whisenhunt later today, but the Cowboys are known to pursue the people they want hard, and, if Horton is that man, may make it difficult for him to refuse their advances.
Whatever happens, however, all of the four options look good, and the Cardinals appear set to make significant strides, defensively, in 2011.