FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Ray Horton has the credentials to prove what kind of man he is. This is, after all, the guy who just before leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers' coaching staff virtually gave his 1999 Mercedes convertible to a cafeteria worker.
Correct that. He sold the car for $20.
"I wasn't going to give it to the guy," Horton said before the team practiced on Monday. "I'm not crazy."
He's also not always Mr. Nice Guy in his new job as defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.
"He's a good guy until you mess up," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Don't let that look fool you. He knows his stuff, man, and he don't care what nobody says. He's all about winning, getting to that ball and hitting somebody."
The 51-year-old Horton is in a precarious job — the third defensive coordinator in coach Ken Whisenhunt's five seasons in Arizona. But after 10 seasons as a player and 17 as an NFL assistant, Horton relishes the opportunity.
"I aspire to move up and up and up," he said. "I love what I'm doing. It means everything. You wonder how good you can be, and you get a shot at it."
Horton played cornerback for Cincinnati and Dallas, appearing in a Super Bowl for each team. He coached for Washington, Cincinnati and Detroit before joining the Pittsburgh staff in 2004. That put him on the same Steelers staff as Whisenhunt, who was offensive coordinator there when he took the Arizona job.
Horton was promoted from assistant defensive backs coach to defensive backs coach with the Steelers when Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007.
Asked what would be different about Horton's defense, Whisenhunt said, "Well, if we could stop somebody, that would be a good start."
The Cardinals were 29th out of 32 teams in total defense, leading to the firing of coordinator Bill Davis, who had taken over from Clancy Pendergast two years earlier.
"The biggest issue that we had last year is that we weren't on the same page as a defense and we weren't playing together," Whisenhunt said. "Everybody wasn't playing the same call, the same way. Whatever you want to say about that, that's basically what hurt us. Our goal this year is to play better team defense."
While the Cardinals will remain basically a 3-4 team, Horton is installing the Steelers' defense, which means a complete turnover in terminology.
"The biggest thing is the calls, the adjustment and the language," Dockett said. "I've been in this system for seven years so I've been used to one thing. I used to come to meetings and look at the board and be like 'OK, I got it,' and I don't even have to pay attention no more. Now I have to go there just like I'm a rookie and write down everything. But change is good."
Of particular concern is the pass rush.
"As I look at it, I can either just say 'Wow, we've got great individual one-on-one players that can beat the guy across from him," Horton said, "or I've got to help them with a scheme, with a blitz, with pressure. I think it will be a mix of that."
And Horton is not above reminding his players of his former employer, and the defensive success he had there.
"I've never used the word Pittsburgh," he said. "Whenever I talk about Pittsburgh, I say a team in western Pennsylvania, and it's for a reason. I envision us becoming like that team in western Pennsylvania. ... Somebody says Rome won't be built in a day, but hopefully it can be built in a season."