Ray Horton, The USFL Head Coach Hired by Fate?

Ray Horton Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Maulers “We are going to model ourselves after the Pittsburgh Steelers”

Ray Horton was a Super Bowl winner as a player and as an assistant coach. He never got the opportunity to add a win as an NFL head coach. Now in 2023, he will be given his first chance to be the head coach of a professional football team with the league that once drafted him before the NFL did in 1983. Originally selected by the LA Express, Horton would never play in the USFL, but fate would give him his first chance to be a head coach there. 

Fate is a theme you’ll see throughout Horton’s story with its fingerprints all over this hire. Coach Horton said it best “I’ve spent most of my professional career in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, or Cleveland.” In 2023 he runs the Maulers representing Pittsburgh but playing in Canton, there couldn’t be a more fitting head coach to guide them this season. As if his return to a state he called home, wearing the same black and gold he once won championships in wasn’t enough there’s a much better feel-good story here. 

There is a great quote about being a father I’ve always loved: “Every father should remember, one day his son will follow his example. Not his advice.”-Charles Kettering

This quote is very fitting for Ray Horton and his son. While they followed two very different paths to where they are today, you can see Jarren was clearly deeply impacted by his father’s example. He quickly wound up diving into coaching. A decision likely aided by his father’s influence, but one Jarren had made long before making the leap. 

Football is A Horton Family Business

Dating all the way back to his college playing days he was telling people he wanted to be a coach. It can be found in his Portland State Bio, in 2011. He was undecided on a major but decided on his future being tied to football whether it was as a player or a coach. The transition to coaching for Jarren came much earlier than his father Ray, but in a way it makes sense. Ray retired following a super bowl victory with the Dallas Cowboys in 1992. By 1994, he was coaching in the NFL, his three-year-old son in tow. Coaching has basically been near Jarren his entire life. 

Jarren lists his first official job title as a ball boy for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2005-2008. Since then Jarren Horton has bounced around holding several jobs, including stints at the college level, NFL, and alternative football levels. That’s where this story about a father’s influence begins to flip in the other direction. As a father, as we grow older with our sons, they become bigger and bigger influences on our lives. Our goals as fathers become intertwined with our children’s success, our own triumphs matter less than those of our children and quickly you find yourself reveling in how far they’ve come as human beings. 

For 2017, and 2018 seasons Ray, was not coaching full time and this allowed him to focus on his children and their careers a bit more, and brush up on his golf game, of course. It also may have opened his eyes to something he never previously experienced himself, Alternative football leagues.

Alliance of American Football…an Intro to Alternative Football

As mentioned in the intro, Ray was drafted by the USFL but never signed a contract or played there. He spent his entire playing, and coaching career in the NFL. His son, on the other hand, got his first taste of alternative football leagues in late 2018 when he was hired to work with the Atlanta Legends of the Alliance of American Football. This may have turned that tiny blip on this NFL legend’s radar into a rather undeniable entity. While Jarren ultimately accepted a job with UConn just days before the AAF folded this league seems to have had a lasting impact on both Horton men. 

In 2019 Ray Horton would coach with the Washington Redskins serving as their defensive backs coach. This would serve as the last year he coached in the NFL. His time off it again allowed him to focus in on his children and their careers. So naturally in 2022 when an old Pittsburgh Steelers coach on one of those Super Bowl Winning Staffs Ray was a part of came calling trying to hire Jarren, it put spring football back on the map for Ray Horton. He got to sit back and watch his former colleague, and his son getting his first chance to serve as a professional football defensive coordinator, coaching a team that represented a place his family called home for many years. I can’t imagine the nostalgia that must have stirred up. 

First Experience with the USFL Comes as a Head Coach

However during the 2022 off-season Kirby Wilson stepped down, creating an opportunity for Ray Horton to run a professional football team as the head coach with his son Jarren, serving as his assistant head coach, and defensive coordinator. Ray may have joined the team later in the offseason but general manager Lonnie Young and Jarren Horton worked hand in hand bringing in key free agents. After Ray was brought in he began to help with the draft and free agency process, while getting up to speed on players signed before he arrived. 

Now for 2023 and beyond Ray and his son Jarren get to put their stamp on a Pittsburgh franchise while playing games in Ohio another state they called home for many years. If I’m a Bengals fan, I’m likely rooting for the Pittsburgh Maulers, they’re playing in my state, their head coach was part of a team that made the super bowl in Cincinnati, then spent another seven years coaching the Bengals or Browns. Ray mentioned during our interview he intends to have his players, and coaches out in the community meeting fans and getting to know them, building a relationship that should only aid build that fan base. 

A lot has been made of these teams spending time playing home games in cities they don’t represent, so I won’t rehash what has been said, but what I will say is playing games in cities these five teams playing games in cities that are in the same region as their home state could actually build a wider foundation of a fan base. Especially if you’re looking at the long-term view of the league. 

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