Accountability on Airline

Saints fire five assistants after third straight losing season



Sean Payton, Gayle and Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis

AP Photo/Bill Feig

After a third straight 7-9 season the New Orleans Saints had to make a change.

Yesterday, word escaped that five assistant coaches, including assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt, defensive line coach Bill Johnson, special teams coordinator Greg McMahon, assistant special teams coach Stan Kwan and defensive assistant/linebackers James Willis, would not return for the 2017 campaign.

After the Saints fell to their third straight 7-9 season, and their fourth in the last five years. Who Dat Nation was left wondering what changes, if any would be made at Saints. Who, if anyone, would be held accountable – team president Dennis Lauscha, general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton, coordinators, coaches, scouts, players?

Six NFL teams let go their head coaches, but minus snickering following a national report that the Los Angeles Rams were interested in acquiring Payton’s services, four days of silence from Airline Drive followed the season finale.

It was not surprising that several defensive and special teams coaches lost their jobs. Both units were ranked near the bottom of the league, while the offense, again, was one of the best in the NFL.

The special teams, especially the kickoff return team, have been subpar since Darren Sproles was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2014 5th-round draft pick. McMahon and Kwan should have seen the writing on the wall when Kevin O'Dea was brought in midseason as a consultant to correct rookie kicker Wil Lutz’ accuracy.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen received credit for the slight improvement his squad made in 2016. And going through five defensive coordinators in 10 years, the Saints weren’t going to let Allen go after one year in charge.

Despite calls from the fans for new leadership, it seems, for now, that owners Gayle and Tom Benson will keep the brain trust of Lauscha, Loomis and Payton in place. It’s the same team that brought a Super Bowl championship to the city. But do they have the ability to recreate their magic? Right now, the team has as many question marks – if not more – than the team that entered 2009.

Needs abound, including at linebacker, offensive line, defensive backfield, defensive end, running back, tight end and, with Drew Brees turning 38 years old this month, a quarterback for the future.

Due to a number of bad deals and dead money over the past several years, the Saints have not been on equal economic footing with the rest of the NFL. Misspent draft picks and free-agent signings that didn’t pan out left the Saints with a payroll roughly 25 percent less than other teams in the league. That means once starters were paid, there wasn’t much left to get the best available backups. As a result, the team has had less talented depth than other teams, which became obvious late in games and as the season progressed.

Entering 2017, the Saints finally have some cap space to build depth across the roster. According to overthecap.com, a website that tracks NFL rosters and salaries, the Saints currently have $140 million in total cap liabilities for 2017, including $9 million in dead money. The salary cap is expected to be $166 million, possibly more, next year. That gives the Saints almost $26 million to spend on improving this team.

Expect Payton to add younger coaches to his staff. Brian Young, a former Saints defensive tackle, was a teammate of several players on the current roster. He may soon become one of their coaches.

Moving forward, more fire will be needed from this team as it prepares for 2017.

For the past three years, the Saints held training camp at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. They’ve finished 7-9 each season, 21-27 total.

The Steam had a three-year deal with the resort. After stumbling out of the gate to a September record of 1-3 in the first four games of the past three years, it cannot be argued that the Greenbrier is the ideal site to prepare to compete for an NFL Championship.

This will be a very interesting offseason. After these five coaching changes, there are only a few people that can shoulder the eventual success or blame for next season’s results.

There was a lack of black and gold in Superdome seats this season. Many of those seats were filled with opposing colors. Many remained empty. That got Saints leadership’s attention. They – the Bensons, Lauscha, Loomis and Payton – know they HAVE to improve. These staff changes will assuage some fans desire for something different. However, if they don’t put a winning product on the field in 2017, expect fans to dither on whether or not they’ll support the team by buying tickets and spending their entertainment dollars on the Saints.

 

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Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he's not writing, he's avid about music, the outdoors and Saints, Ole Miss & Chelsea football. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, two girls and three Labradors. In addition reporting on New Orleans sports, he is looking forward to Biz’s assignment to cover the Mint 400, “The Great American Off-Road Race.”

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