From the first day Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton stepped onto a professional football field as a rookie defensive back with the Cincinnati Bengals, he had always planned on becoming a coach.
But, it was during his time playing for then-Bengals defensive backs coach Dick LeBeau that Horton said he realized coaching at the professional level was something he wanted to pursue. That desire to be an NFL coach was furthered when Horton was coaching the Pittsburgh secondary under LeBeau, who is the Steelers’ defensive coordinator.
“Personally, I thought I’d be a coach in college, but upon meeting Coach LeBeau, I knew how I wanted to be a coach, what style I wanted to coach and how I wanted to treat players,” Horton recalled. “I always wanted to be a coach, but he was a role model to me on how to coach.”
Horton will coach against his mentor when the Browns host the Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday, but he considers LeBeau more than just an example of a coaching success. To him, LeBeau is family.
“For me, it’s more of a personal than a professional relationship,” Horton said. “When you have a mentor like that, I think it is that way. It goes beyond football, and I carry some of the life lessons that I’ve learned from him into my life and instilled in my children and my coaching career. Probably everything that I am, he’s a big reason why.”
Far behind what type of pressure the front seven will bring to an opposing quarterback or how the secondary will cover a team going with a five-receiver formation, Horton said he learned how to respect and treat people on “many golf trips on the road” with LeBeau.
In fact, Horton took that example to heart and gave it meaning when he sold his Mercedes Benz SL500 to a Steelers cafeteria worker for $20 on his last day with the organization before becoming the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.
“He’s quite the scholar, but I’d say he’s got that common touch,” Horton said of LeBeau. “It’s unbelievable how he treats people and he’s got an uncanny ability to make you think you’re the only one in the room that matters.”
It is because of the example LeBeau set for his family, players and fellow coaches that led to a celebration when the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2010. For LeBeau, an Ohio native, his enshrinement was a nod to his playing and coaching career, which began in 1959 and has spanned more than five decades.
LeBeau’s enshrinement meant “everything” to Horton.
“For a man to contribute as much as he did as a player and coach, and to have as many players on his side, I think it’s justice for him,” Horton said. “I’m very proud. Most players you hear talk about him, it’s a father-son relationship, and I’m sure those guys were just as proud as I was for him.”