METAIRIE, La. – When Dennis Allen called his wife Allison just after being told he was the new coach of the New Orleans Saints on Monday, he delivered a message.
“You can stop stressing now, I got the job,” he said.
Or you can start.
Allen, who has been the Saints’ defensive coordinator since late in the 2015 season, replaces one of the most successful coaches in recent NFL history in Sean Payton, who stepped away from football two weeks ago. Payton took the Saints to nine playoff appearances from 2006-20 with a Super Bowl title and three NFC championship games.
“I want to say a special thank you to a man that I had an opportunity to be around for 12 of the last 16 years, a guy that I really got a chance to see up close who I consider to be a Hall of Fame football coach, and that’s Sean Payton,” Allen said at his introductory press conference as the Saints coach at team headquarters here Tuesday.
“It was the greatest thing from a professional standpoint that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “And I’ve learned so many lessons here being a part of his staff and really getting the chance to watch him up close and personal.”
Now, can Allen take the Saints to four straight NFC South titles as Payton did from 2017-20 and become a Super Bowl contender again?
“This was not a broken job,” Allen said of a team that fell to 9-8 in 2021 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. But there were major injuries throughout the season, including a season-ending one to quarterback Jameis Winston just seven games into the season.
“We have a lot of great pieces in place. This is a desirable job,” said Allen, who interviewed for the job on Friday. “This is a job that has a foundation and a culture of winning that’s already been built. I’m going to try and build on that. I want to try and continue this winning tradition, and I don’t see this as something that we need to have a ton of change. It’s been working.”
But Allen promises he will be himself, if not part Payton clone.
“You have to be yourself,” he said. “I’m going to be me. That’s firm, demanding, energetic. I think you learn from watching Sean Payton that one thing I do know is when you get in a position like this, you have to do it your way. You have to be yourself. So, I’m going to come to work every day, and I’m going to be me. And I’m going to put my own little spin on it.”
He also must avoid the Saints’ first losing season since 2016 and continue the legacy of winning.
“Look, I think that’s a huge responsibility,” Allen said when asked about what he is following. “But I’m looking more at it as I want to take the lessons that I’ve learned. I want to build upon those lessons, and I want to create my own legacy here with the New Orleans Saints. I know this is a job that you have to do with your own personality. And that’s the way I plan on attacking it.”
Allen did not get specific about a new offensive coordinator or keeping Pete Carmichael in that title.
“Look, I was just informed yesterday that I was going to get the job,” he said as laughter broke.
But he is likely to stay very involved with the defense regardless of who his defensive coordinator is, though that is expected to be defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen.
“I told somebody else, ‘It’s hard to turn your baby over,'” he said of running the defense and continuing to call plays and game plan. “I don’t see the offense running too dissimilarly of what we’ve done in the past. Our offense is going to be physical. We’re going to be explosive. We’re going to be exciting.”
Allen said he would be at the center of personnel decisions such as the draft and free agency as much as Payton was.
“Absolutely,” he said. “A major role of head coach is to be heavily involved in personnel.”
Allen clearly sounded ready, which is what he told general manager Mickey Loomis and owner Gayle Benson in the six-hour interview last week.
“My message was I was the best guy for the job,” he said. “I closed out with, ‘I don’t know how you think I did in this six-hour interview, but I’ve been interviewing for this job for 12 of the last 16 years. My body of work qualifies me for this job.'”
Benson and Loomis agreed.
“Dennis has a deep knowledge of our culture in the building because he is a part of that culture,” Benson said.
“He’s just a damn good football coach,” Loomis said. “We hated it when he left in 2011.”
That’s when Allen, who came to New Orleans with Payton in 2006, left the Saints to become defensive coordinator at Denver. Then he was was head coach at Oakland from 2012-14, going 8-28 before getting fired after an 0-4 start before returning to New Orleans.
“I was just 39 years old,” he said. “There were different circumstances with that experience.”
Oakland had not had a winning season since 2002 when he was hired after the 2011 season.
“I’m way more experienced now,” he said. “I was a one-year coordinator at the time. I’ve seen a lot more. I’ve experienced a lot more.”
The Saints are not the Raiders.
“To me this is the perfect fit,” he said. “There’s a comfortableness to making this move. I love this organization. I’ve been a part of it for 12 of the last 16 years. I’ve been able to be at a few places and this as quality an organization as I’ve been around. I’m just really excited. We’re going to play with a passion and energy that our opponents are either going to be unable or unwilling to match.”