September 2, 2014

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Ray Horton hired as Browns defensive coordinator

BEREA — Ray Horton had been on the Browns’ radar for weeks. He’s now on their coaching staff.

Horton, 52, was hired Friday as defensive coordinator. He spent the last two years as the Cardinals’ coordinator and interviewed earlier this month for the head coaching jobs with the Browns, Cardinals and Bills.

The Browns hired Rob Chudzinski instead, then were able to land Horton when Arizona chose Bruce Arians as its head coach. Horton was upset he was passed over and wanted to move on.

He signed a four-year, $8 million deal with the Browns, according to arizonasports.com, which is a long and lucrative deal for a defensive coordinator.

“We are truly excited that we were able to get someone of Ray’s caliber as our defensive coordinator,” Chudzinski said. “He possesses a great deal of experience as a player, position coach and coordinator in the NFL and has been part of some of the top defenses in the league throughout his career.

“He is an extremely talented coach and I know that he will work very well with the young nucleus of players we have on defense.”

Horton has 19 years of coaching experience after 10 years as a defensive back. He coached the secondary for seven years with the Steelers before becoming coordinator in Arizona.

The Cardinals led the NFL in passer rating allowed (71.2) in 2012, ranked second in interceptions (22) and third-down efficiency (32.9 percent), third in red zone defense (44.4 percent) and fourth in takeaways (33).

They also ranked fifth in passing defense (200.8 yards per game), first downs allowed (288) and points allowed per drive (1.42). They were 12th in total yards (337.8 per game), 17th in points (22.3) and 28th against the run (137.0).

Horton used a 3-4 scheme in Arizona and Pittsburgh, but has the flexibility wanted by Chudzinski, who would like to use a hybrid of the 3-4 and 4-3 systems. The Browns switched to a 4-3 in 2011, so the personnel would have to be altered if Horton wants to use a lot of 3-4 alignments.

Horton follows Norv Turner (offense) — who gave him his coaching start with the Redskins in 1994 — and Chris Tabor (special teams) as coordinator hires. All three bring experience and success, which is crucial for a first-time head coach.

“We believe we have outstanding leaders and teachers in each of our three phases,” Chudzinski said. “I feel as though we are off to a great start in our plan of putting together an outstanding coaching staff.”

“An important factor in hiring Rob was our confidence in him being able to put together a top-quality staff,” CEO Joe Banner said. “He has assembled an extremely impressive group of coaches, and that will be very beneficial as we develop our players.”

Fighting words

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told csnphilly.com that Banner appeared to be the unnamed source of comments critical of Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman in a CBSsports.com story Jan. 14.

“I’m very supportive of Howie, and if there’s any criticism coming from afar about Howie, it’s just off-base, and so I will support Howie completely, because that’s not right,” Lurie said. “And, you know, if there are league sources that are really based in Cleveland, that’s not right. We see through it all.”

Banner was childhood friends with Lurie and worked as his right-hand man for 19 years before leaving last year. The Browns and Eagles were looking for coaches this month, and CBSsports.com’s Jason La Canfora, quoting a source, wrote Roseman was “drunk with power” and “woefully out of his depth.”

Banner, who worked with Roseman with the Eagles, issued a statement to csnphilly.com.

“It’s always difficult to comment on a quote that may or may not be accurate or in context,” Banner said. “In this case, from the comments Jeffrey made that were communicated to me, it is necessary for me to make this clear, unambiguous statement. Any implication that I had anything to do with Jason LaCanfora’s story is completely false, outrageous and borders on being libelous. I had absolutely no conversation with Jason LaCanfora. Having demonstrated my character over the last 44 years to Jeffrey and the last 14 to Howie, it is beyond disappointing that they would suggest such a thing. As tempting as it is to go further, other than defending myself, I will continue to take the high road on all such matters as I have done since the day I left the Eagles.”

Banner admitted he was blindsided by the accusation but didn’t want to discuss it at the news conference introducing Michael Lombardi as vice president of player personnel.

“It’s just unfortunate and untrue,” Banner said.

Who’ll call the plays?

Chudzinski said he’s comfortable with Turner calling the plays, but the decision hasn’t been made. Turner went on vacation after getting fired by the Chargers as head coach and hasn’t arrived at Browns headquarters.

“We’ll work through that,” Chudzinski said of calling plays. “Obviously I have a lot of confidence in Norv.

“But we need to work through some of the things offensively. He’s going to be here on Monday, so we’ll have a big list of things to work through. And that’ll be one of the things we’ll discuss and I’ll let you know at that time.”

Chudzinski said they share a philosophy of a vertical passing game and a strong running game and have each added elements in the two years they’ve been apart. He didn’t think the role reversal —  Chudzinski was an assistant to Turner in 2009-10 — would be awkward.

“We worked so much hand-in-hand and during the course of the game, it was a lively interaction at all times,” Chudzinski said. “I could throw plays out and tell him. We had that kind of relationship that I think it’ll be very smooth and I’m looking forward to it.

“He’s been a mentor to me. He will be a great guy not only just from his offensive credentials that he brings to the table but as well as just being able to help me on a day-to-day basis, a guy that’s had experience being a head coach.”

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.