Pittsburgh Maulers head coach Ray Horton remembers what it was like to be down and out, playing meaningless football near the midway mark of a season schedule. He also knows what it takes to turn things around and achieve the ultimate goal.
Horton plans on addressing his team about that sort of turnaround the first chance he gets. The group would be wise to listen after finishing dead last in the USFL standings with a 1-9 mark last spring.
“It’s not really where you start, everybody talks about that,” Horton told Steelers Now. “It’s a long journey and we’re ready to make the climb. I have a lot of anecdotal memories … Talking about, yeah, I was 1-15 (in 1989 with the Dallas Cowboys), and later on, I was on a 15-1 team in Pittsburgh. And there’s not a lot of difference. It’s just players executing.”
Horton has sought advice from fellow former Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Kirby Wilson, who was at the helm for the Maulers a year ago. He feels that he inherits a solid foundation from his predecessor — estimating that 70-75% of last year’s roster remains.
That includes safeties Tre Tarpley — a Pittsburgh native and former Central Catholic standout — and Bryce Torneden. The latter totaled 70 stops in 2022, which was second only to linebacker Kyahva Tezino (86), and the pair figures to provide some comfort on the back end.
As Horton evaluates who might give his team the best chance to succeed, everyone should get a fair crack at seeing the field.
He said, “We’re going to have a great opportunity for players to say, ‘I have a clean slate because the head coach wasn’t here last year. He doesn’t know anything about me, so I can impress him with how much I’ve gotten better over the offseason.’ Our roster will be built on guys that show us that they can compete on this level.”
On offense, Horton said to expect some alterations. The Maulers ranked second-to-last in both passing and rushing yards last spring.
“We’re going to change the system a little bit,” Horton said. “ We hope that it being the second year in the USFL for everybody that the players are now adjusted to how the game is played and the speed and understand now what they’re asked to do and do it at a higher level … The football game has changed from the old Woody Hayes three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust to now it’s, ‘Spread ‘em out and get as many yards as you can.’ We’re going to be right on par with modern-day football.”
It won’t be long before fans will get a chance to see those changes. The Maulers open their regular season against the New Orleans Breakers on Sunday, April 16. They’ll play against their hub neighbors, the New Jersey Generals, in Canton the following week.
For USFL ticket information, fans can visit theUSFL.com.