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The safe hire, the conservative hire, the media hire for the New Orleans Saints’ head coaching opening is Saints’ defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
He’s hot and has been hot for years, as his defense has been among the best in the NFL since his first full season as DC in 2016. If not hired by the Saints, he may get one of the other NFL head coaching jobs soon as there are openings at Jacksonville, Minnesota, Miami, New York Giants, Houston and Las Vegas in addition to New Orleans.
The Saints will also be interviewing Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who was New Orleans’ defensive backs coach from 2016-20, and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, an offensive coordinator for much of his career who won the Super Bowl last season with quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians. Leftwich is also up for the Jacksonville head coaching job.
Glenn and Leftwich are both black and meet the NFL’s requirement for all teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coaching positions.
Allen could be the Saints’ head coach in a few days, in time for the Senior Bowl practices and talent evaluations next week in Mobile, Alabama. He is already 1-0 as an interim Saints head coach with a 9-0 win over Tampa Bay last season when then-coach Sean Payton had to sit out the game with COVID-19.
Allen, 49, has NFL head coaching experience, as he was the Oakland Raiders head coach in 2012 and ’13 and part of ’14, but he was 4-12 twice and off to an 0-4 start when he was fired. He interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles job at this time a year ago, but that went to 39-year-old Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, who went 9-8 and reached the playoffs after inheriting a 4-11-1 team from fired coach Doug Pederson.
Payton. who announced he was leaving the Saints on Tuesday, was a 42-year-old quarterbacks coach with the Dallas Cowboys under coach Bill Parcells when he was hired by the Saints after the 2005 season. He had been an NFL offensive coordinator for only three seasons from 2000-02 with the New York Giants, and he was stripped of his play calling there.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis took a chance on Payton. Loomis should try to keep a solid and impressive Saints’ coaching staff intact by either retaining Allen as defensive coordinator – should he not get a head coaching job – or promoting assistant head coach/defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen. But a new head coach from outside the organization with offensive coordinator experience is the best and gutsiest call.
Loomis could have played it safer and hired Mike Martz, who started the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense as coordinator with the St. Louis Rams in 1999 that won Super Bowl XXXIV. Martz replaced head coach Dick Vermeil, and his offense took the Rams to a 14-2 season in 2001 and to Super Bowl XXXVI before a loss to New England in New Orleans. Martz slipped to 8-8 in 2004 and was fired in 2005 after missing most of the season with a heart condition. His health improved, and he coached for five more seasons in the NFL as an offensive coordinator after not getting the Saints job.
Or Loomis could have gone conservative and hired Mike Sherman, who had been head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 2000-05 with four playoff appearances before getting fired after a 4-12 season in 2005. He, like Martz, interviewed with the Saints.
At the time, the Saints had one playoff win in their history and just five appearances in all with the last one in 2000. Experience at reaching the playoffs as a head coach would have made sense for a hire.
But Loomis gambled and hired Payton. The result was one of the least conservative, most daring and best offenses in NFL history from 2006 through 2021. There were nine playoff appearances under Payton with advancement seven times, three NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl title in the 2009 season.
Is there another Payton out there?
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, 52, could be one as he has learned under one of the best offensive head coaches in the NFL – Andy Reid. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have one of the elite offenses in the NFL, and it has been that way since 2018 — Mahomes’ first season as starter and Bieniemy’s first as OC. They won Super Bowl LIV in the 2019 season and reached Super Bowl LV last season before losing to Tampa Bay. With a win over Cincinnati Sunday, Kansas City will be in its third straight Super Bowl.
Bieniemy was born in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles and becoming Colorado’s all-time leading rusher and playing from 1991-99 in the NFL. He was Colorado’s offensive coordinator in 2011 and ’12 and was the Chiefs’ running backs coach from 2013-17.
It would be a risk to hire Bieniemy. He has never been a head coach, and Mahomes could make many offensive coordinators look better than they are. The Saints cannot interview Bieniemy until after this weekend’s playoff games.
Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, 46, is another hot commodity — long before one of the greatest quarterback clashes in history last Sunday in the AFC Divisional round between the Bills’ Josh Allen and Mahomes. Daboll has been Buffalo’s offensive coordinator since 2018, and he was previously an offensive coordinator with Cleveland in 2009 and ’10, Miami in 2011, Kansas City in 2012 and with Alabama in 2017. Daboll is up for the head coaching openings with Miami and the Giants.
There is also 33-year-old Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, whose unit has led the NFL in total offense twice since he got his present job in 2019. He may be just too young though. His only other coaching experience was as quarterbacks coach for the Cowboys in 2018, and he just finished playing quarterback in the NFL in 2017.
Loomis had it much easier 16 years ago when he made his first NFL head coaching hire. Any hire he made only had to do better initially than Jim Haslett, who was 3-13 in 2005 and had just two winning seasons out of six at 10-6 and 9-7 with one playoff appearance.
Forget the Super Bowl in the 2009 season and the three playoff appearances after that through 2013. Payton has been one of the most successful coaches in the NFL since just 2017. The Saints were 49-15 from 2017-20 in the regular season with four NFC South titles. Then he went 9-8 last season amid a pandemic of injuries and narrowly missed the playoffs. Many feel that getting that team to 9-8 was his greatest coaching job with the Saints.
So, uh, good luck following that. Oh, and you don’t exactly have a quarterback.
Even if Loomis does find another Payton, he still may have another hire to make. Payton basically operated as the Saints’ general manager as far as personnel was concerned. Loomis has largely been a salary cap specialist. New Orleans has had assistant GM Jeff Ireland since 2015, and Ireland was previously the Dolphins’ GM from 2008-13. He is capable, talented and experienced with some excellent drafts under his belt. But Payton ran the whole show.
And Saints fans thought replacing Drew Brees would be difficult.
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