CLEVELAND — As he considered candidates to run his defence, new Browns coach Hue Jackson wanted someone familiar with the AFC North.
His co-ordinator had to know the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals inside and out.
Ray Horton played in Cincinnati and coached in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Jackson didn’t have to look further.
"He knows this division," Jackson said in announcing Horton’s hiring. "He was raised in this division. He played in this division. He understands what needs to be done to get our defence back to where it needs to be. I wanted somebody that knew the lay of the land and understood the division, understands the culture here and understands the change that we need to make and someone who can lead our young players and develop players to get better."
Jackson announced the addition of Horton and 10 other assistants on Friday. The most prominent hire was Horton, whose return was reported by The Associated Press earlier this week.
He’s back in Cleveland after spending the past two seasons as Tennessee’s defensive co-ordinator. Horton was Rob Chudzinski’s defensive co-ordinator with the Browns in 2013, when the unit finished ranked ninth overall in the league.
"I am really excited to be back," Horton said. "I love the fans of Cleveland. When I was here last time they really embraced me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met Cleveland fans in different cities. It is a great fan base. I am excited to come back and help coach Jackson win. We haven’t worked together previously, but I think there has been a mutual respect from across the field. It’s one of those things where you appreciate the challenges from matching up against each other from opposite sides of the field."
Horton inherits a unit that underachieved in 2015. Cleveland’s defence finished 27th overall and 30th against the run, a problem the team has attempted to address with little success over the past few seasons.
In addition to Horton, Jackson’s staff will include Pep Hamilton (associate head coach-offence), Al Saunders (senior offensive assistant/wide receivers), Kirby Wilson (running backs/run game co-ordinator), Hal Hunter (offensive line), Mark Hutson (assistant offensive line), Greg Seamon (tight ends) and Bob Saunders (offensive quality control). Shawn Mennenga (special teams assistant) and Stan Watson (special teams quality control) will rejoin special teams co-ordinator Chris Tabor, who has been with the club since 2011.
Hamilton, Saunders and Wilson will help Jackson put together his game plan. However, the former Bengals offensive co-ordinator has decided he will call plays.
"I think I have to start that way for our team," Jackson said. "When you take these jobs you get them for a reason. You have to be aware of what you’ve been successful at and what got you this opportunity. You want to make sure the team is really good at what got you here, first and foremost."
In his previous stint with Cleveland, Horton’s defence improved from 23rd in overall defence to ninth — its highest finish since 1999. The Browns registered 40 sacks and cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward made their first Pro Bowls.
Horton spent two seasons (2011-12) as Arizona’s defensive co-ordinator. Before joining the Cardinals, he coached the Steelers’ defensive backs for seven seasons. During his tenure in Pittsburgh, he helped the Steelers’ defence rank in the top 10 in the NFL in total defence each season, including leading the league three times.
"His defences have gone after the quarterback," Jackson said. "They have been effective in stopping the run. They had a very good pass defence when he was here. That is what we need to do. We have some of the premier passers in this division when you talk about Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco. We are going to have slow those guys down to have a chance to compete in this division. That is what we expect from our defence."
Horton was drafted by the Bengals in 1983. He made 99 starts and appeared in 147 games with the Bengals (1983-88) and Cowboys (1989-92). He won a Super Bowl with Dallas.