July 22, 2014

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Browns notes: New defensive coordinator Ray Horton brings lots of NFL experience, success

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.”

Moving on

The Browns’ first choice for coach seemed to be Oregon’s Chip Kelly. Owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner spent days in Arizona waiting for him to coach in a bowl game, then met with him for seven hours.
Kelly originally decided to return to Oregon before joining the Eagles on Wednesday. Haslam said he didn’t have a reaction.

“I’m not worried about any other situation,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do here.

“I can assure you Joe and I and Mike and Rob’s total focus is on making this football team better. OK? We’re focused on the Cleveland Browns.”

Get to know him

Chudzinski said last week one of his first priorities was talking to his players and conveying his vision. He said Friday he’s talked to 10 or 15, including quarterback Brandon Weeden and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. He plans to meet with more now that his search for assistant coaches is wearing down.

“We had a good conversation, talked a little bit about what my vision is for the team,” Chudzinski said of Weeden, who has an uncertain future with the team. “It sounds like he’s excited.

“There’s a feel of energy in the air and I think these guys are excited about getting going. And I can’t wait until they all report.”

Free-agent splash

The Browns have a young roster and reportedly $47 million in salary cap space, so Banner was asked again about diving headfirst into the free-agent pool, which opens March 12.

“I need to cautiously manage expectations,” he said. “I would expect us to be players in free agency, but we’ll never be building the team around that. We won’t care about splash.

“Some of the best moves I’ve made in free agency were, for example, picking up a Chris Clemons from (Oakland), signed him to a very modest contract and for (the last three years in Seattle) he’s been a double-digit sack guy. We believe we will pick up players who will make us a better team.”

What about chasing the biggest names available?

“We are not precluding that, either,” he said. “But it could be that we are picking up two, three, four incremental players that are making us better or help our rotation as opposed to being a splash. But I’d be surprised if we are not participants in free agency.”

Banner said the brain trust has not decided the team’s greatest needs.

Eagle (eye) scout

Banner will have a larger say in football decisions than he did as president in Philadelphia, which worries many fans. Lombardi was asked about Banner’s scouting acumen.

“I respect Joe’s opinion on everything,” he said. “Joe has a great knowledge on what’s going on in the world, the league and football. I’ve often viewed anybody that puts the time and effort into it, and has an opinion, I think it’s great.

“Joe has been dead-on on anything I’ve ever talked about. We sat in a room together and ran a draft together and it worked.”

Extra points

Former Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who was fired Dec. 31 after two seasons, went 0-for-2 Friday on offensive coordinator jobs for which he had interviewed. The Panthers promoted Mike Shula, and the Jets hired Marty Mornhinweg.

Shurmur said at the end of the season he planned to coach in 2013.

• Lombardi’s wife, Millie, celebrated a birthday Friday by attending the news conference.
“Bigger than me getting this job, it’s Millie’s birthday,” he said. “We call it Millie-gras. It lasts for a week.”

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