It may seem incongruous that the Buffalo Bills are reaching out to a team that lost 11 of its last 12 games for head-coaching candidates.
Yet the Arizona Cardinals had a well-respected staff this season, despite their lack of success.
The Bills interviewed their second Cardinals coach Wednesday, meeting with Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton. The session followed a meeting Tuesday evening with recently fired Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Bills confirmed.
Meanwhile, more interviews were on the docket. The Bills were scheduled to meet this weekend with both University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, according to numerous media reports.
Horton, 52, is a 19-year NFL coaching veteran with a strong presence and was viewed as a good leader in Arizona. He already has interviewed for the vacant Cardinals head job and with the Cleveland Browns.
He told Arizona reporters before the interview Wednesday he was eager to meet with the Bills’ executives.
“I’m excited about the opportunity here [in Arizona] and the fantastic interview I had with Cleveland last night and going to try to knock Buffalo’s socks off,” Horton said.
Horton coached a Cardinals defense that ranked 12th in the NFL this season. Arizona was fifth in sacks, second on third downs and first in interceptions. They were 17th in points allowed, a category that was hindered by the fact the Arizona offense ranked last in the league.
Horton is a protege of Pittsburgh Hall-of-Fame coach Dick LeBeau, for whom he both played and coached. Horton was on LeBeau’s staff in Cincinnati from 1997 to 2001. He was defensive backs coach in Pittsburgh (where LeBeau is defensive coordinator) from 2004 to 2010.
Horton said he does not worry about being pidgeon-holed as a defensive coach.
“I think I’m a coach of men,” he said. “I talk about a plan to build a team. I don’t talk about, ‘Hey, I can build this offense or this defense and good luck with the rest of the team.’ Whether you’re an offensive coach, you’ve got to have a defensive guy who can do something on that side. It all blends together. I think that’s a zero issue.”
Horton also declared he would not call the defensive signals if he became a head coach.
“Nope. I delegate,” Horton said. “I think a guy that controls everything controls nothing. I would be there to assist and help if needed. But I trust the coaches I hire to be experts at their positions.
“Now, am I going to get 11, 15, 22 experts who are going to be experts at every position? Probably not. But the two coordinators are going to be experts. Really, in my power structure, that’s how it works. Your head coach and two coordinators have to be expert at their position. ... There’s a hierarchy of critical positions. The quality control is not the most critical position on the staff.”
Whisenhunt, 50, was fired after the Cardinals’ 5-11 season.
Nevertheless, he got widespread credit during his tenure for turning around a team that had gone 16-32 in its previous three years. That’s the same record the Bills complied under fired coach Chan Gailey. Whisenhunt improved the Cardinals from 5-11 to 8-8 in 2007. They made the playoffs the next two years, going 9-7 and reaching the Super Bowl in 2008, then going 10-6 in 2009.
Veteran quarterback Kurt Warner retired after the ‘09 season. The past three seasons, the Cardinals went 18-30 and started six different quarterbacks.
Whisenhunt had a major say in personnel with the Cardinals, more than many coaches and more than he would have in Buffalo. That’s because the Cardinals did not have a dominant general manager. It’s widely believed in Arizona that Whisenhunt could have used more help on the personnel side.
There was no word Wednesday on whether the Bills were going to interview Cardinals offensive line coach Russ Grimm. Also on Whisenhunt’s staff was ex-Bill Frank Reich, who was receivers coach.
Kelly, 49, is scheduled to interview with the Bills, Eagles and Browns, according to both USA Today and NFL.com. His Oregon team faces Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl tonight. Kelly is considered one of the bright offensive coaches in the college game. His Ducks are 45-7 in his four seasons and lost to Auburn in the national title game in the 2010 season.