by Jim W. Miller
Fired Saints coaches don’t deserve the blame
My old boss, Jim Finks, had so many sayings that I spent much of my early years with him collecting them. Of the 75 or so that I wrote down, some were pithy while others were not suitable for a family newspaper, but all made perceptive points. I thought about one of those sayings a few days ago after the Saints announced that five assistant coaches were being fired.
(Photo: Former Saint GM, Jim Finks)
Was it because somewhere along the way, they lost their edge or got fat and happy to the point they just aren’t good coaches anymore? The more likely answer is that, no, they still have the knowledge it takes to survive in a business that insiders define as “NFL - Not For Long.” While pondering that question, a Finks quote jumped out at me. “Good players make good coaches,” he often said, which provides some between-the-lines reasoning why Payton jettisoned coaches he had worked with for more than a decade. The reason they were let go is that the Saints don’t have enough good players to make coaches good coaches.
Joe Vitt, Bill Johnson and special team coach Greg McMahon were on the staff when the Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season. If they were good enough to win a Super Bowl, how are they bad enough now to get fired? Did the 2009 Super Bowl champions have more “good” players than the current team? A little roster comparison is reasonable, particularly on defense, but often the definition of “good” players is a bit nuanced. An experienced player is sometimes more valuable to his team than an inexperienced player although their skill set might be similar.
Would you rather have Charles Grant or Kasim Edebali? How about Scott Fujita or Nate Stupar? And certainly a healthy player is better to have than one susceptible to injury. Tracy Porter or Delvin Breaux? Jonathan Vilma or Dannell Ellerbe?. Maybe a veteran with a sterling career behind him continues playing at a high level while another does not. Would you rather have Darren Sharper at 34 or Jairus Byrd at 30?
It would be hard to find much difference in the offense between 2009 and 2016, obviously because QB Drew Brees continues to perform at a high level. The Saints ranked No. 1 in the league in 2009, while the 2016 team ranked second. Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower gained 1,591 yards between them this year, still short of the 1,837 recorded by the tandem of Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush. However, you could argue that today’s receiving corps of Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead, with 242 catches, is superior to the 2009 team of Marcus Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meacham, who caught 166 balls between them.
The 2016 offensive line performed amazingly well although the 2009 group was considered more skillful. Perhaps the real culprit in all this is not coaching, but scouting. The 2016 and 2015 drafts appear to be full of keepers, but Cooks is the only player left from the 2014 draft and Kenny Vaccaro and Terron Armstead survive from the 2013 draft. Not one player drafted in 2012 or 2010 is still on the roster, and only Cameron Jordan and Ingram are still here from the 2011 draft. Jimmy Graham was selected in 2010, so to be fair let’s consider Max Unger, who was acquired in the Graham trade, as a benefit of the 2010 draft. Six starters from the five drafts between 2010-14 is not conducive to winning.
I won’t even go into the poor record of recent signing free agents such as James Laurinaitis and Brandon Browner. Finks was right, good players do make good coaches, but when your player acquisition department fails to provide enough good players, your coaches usually pay the price