Bruce Arians Is In As Arizona's New Head Coach; Is Todd Bowles Joining Him?
By: Kim O'Hara | Posted: January 18, 2013
Bruce Arians earned a head coaching role this season with his masterful assumption of the role in Colts' head coach Chuck Pagano's absence. He took a team coming off a 2-14 season that had lost its head coach as he battled leukemia and turned it into an 11-5 playoff team. With a quarter of all NFL jobs available, it seemed inevitable that Arians would be offered one of them and almost shocking as job after job was filled with no mention of Arians. The final vacancy was Arizona, a team with glaring personnel issues that had been led by the offensive-minded Ken Whisenhunt, who proved he could win with the right talent (according to two consecutive playoff berths and a Super Bowl appearance). The Cardinals had a terrific defense last season and it was believed defensive coordinator Ray Horton would be a top candidate for the role.
As it stands, Arians was offered the job and accepted it. He'll now face the dearth of talent at quarterback that sunk his predecessor and will be forced to glean through the slim pickings of the 2013 draft and free agency if he doesn't want to give Kevin Kolb another chance. Arians did a great job of keeping his team inspired and motivated this season, but he was helped by the natural leadershihp and magnificent talent of the overall number one pick at quarterback. Andrew Luck benefitted by Arians' play-calling (perhaps never better evidenced than in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, as Arians was hospitalized and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen was asked to run the offense, which failed to accomplish much of note against Baltimore), but Arians was equally bolstered by the presence of a future great such as Luck.
The best thing Arians can do is ensure that his defensive coordinator is a proven talent who can run a defense capable of supporting an offense as it's rebuilt. If reports are to be believed, Arians is disregarding all that Horton has accomplished in Arizona and attempting to bring Philadelphia's Todd Bowles on board. In fairness, Bowles took over a struggling defense in Week 8 after the Juan Castillo experiment was deemed unsuccessful. Bowles was promoted from secondary coach after Castillo, the team's former offensive line coach, was relieved of his duties.
Both Horton and Bowles' defenses allowed similar yardage (337.8 and 343.2 yards per game, respectively), but Horton's Cardinals sacked more effectively (38 to 30 on the season), notched far more interceptions (NFL second-best 22 to 8), forced the same number of fumbles (13) but recovered more than twice as many (11 to 5) and had more defensive touchdowns (3 to 0) than Bowles' Eagles. At first glance, it would make most sense to keep Horton right where he is. He's got a comfortable rapport with the existing defensive personnel and familiarity with NFC West opponents. In a division as swiftly on the upswing as the NFC West, knowledge of opponents' preferences and tendencies could be immensely valuable to a first-year head coach.
Upon first look, Horton runs a 3-4 defense (three defensive lineman/tackles and four linebackers) whereas Bowles operated a 4-3 system in Philadelphia (four defensive linemen/tackles and three linebackers). It's tough to imagine Arians would feel more comfortable with a 4-3 system as both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh (where Arians served as offensive coordinator for five season) work with a 3-4 scheme.
ArizonaSports.com reported Wednesday that if Arians were to get the job, he would bring Bowles along as defensive coordinator, having promised him as much at some unspecified point in time. Both men worked with the Cleveland Browns from 2001-2003 (Arians as offensive coordinator, Bowles as defensive nickel package coach). Is it possible they'd discussed their future in such detail a decade ago? Perhaps they became close and have remained in touch these past ten years, which makes more sense than Arians promising a nickel package coach the role of his defensive coordinator.
Arians also spent time on Pittsburgh's staff with Horton, who was the Steelers' secondary coach for all but one season of Arians' tenure, but they evidently never got close enough to discuss future appointments on coaching staffs. But Arians' alleged promises aside, it sounds as though Horton was less than pleased to learn he'd been passed over as head coach, according to Mike Jurecki, a reporter for Arizona sports radio station XTRA910:
For those asking abt Ray Horton I was told he had a heated exchange w/ Steve Keim, wanted out his contract. @kidstallyn Re Horton— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) January 18, 2013
If that's the case and Horton does want out of his contract, it's just as well Arians had other plans in mind. As for Horton, the demand for a talented 3-4 defensive coordinator isn't nearly as high as it was two weeks ago, if there's any at all. If he is let out of his contract, and Arians does bring Bowles on board, it will be slim pickings for Horton's next career move.
Kim O'Hara is the Associate Editor of TheFootballGirl.com. She is an avid fan of sports in general, but the NFL in particular. She has also been a contributor to ESPN the Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @KimOHaraTFG
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