by Jim W. Miller
It was halftime of the Saints game yesterday when I checked my Twitter account for any wisdom on why the hometown heroes were getting pistol-whipped by a very average Redskins team. Fletcher Mackel, sports director of WDSU-TV in New Orleans, remarked that on its current pace of 394 total yards in the first half alone, Washington’s offense could gain 800 yards on the very offensive Saints defense. I hit “reply” and suggested to Mackel that the Saints adopt the city’s pothole policy when it comes to filling holes. Put an orange cone in front of the hole and maybe the Redskins running backs would drive around them just as thousands of New Orleans drivers do every day.
Fletcher liked the remark so much that he invited me to appear on the WDSU 4 p.m. news on Monday afternoon. I was practicing my ad-libs during my morning run today, but when I returned I saw a text from Fletcher that gave me all the fodder I needed: “They just fired Rob Ryan. Be on the set at 3:45.”
Firing of the Saints’ defensive coordinator comes as no surprise, since the team’s defense ranks dead last in the NFL in just about every conceivable category except “Bars visited by Coordinator.” Despite the numbers, for anyone who might wonder why a team would fire its coordinator at this point of the season, the answer is “you can’t fire all the players.” Rob Ryan isn’t a bad coach, but he wasn’t a particularly good coach for one simple NFL absolute: “Good players make good coaches.” The flip side is just as true: “Bad players make bad coaches,” and “bad” coaches get fired.
Anyone who thinks the Saints defense will suddenly rise up to become the 1985 Bears, coincidentally coached by Rob’s father Buddy Ryan, is sadly mistaken. The Saints do not have enough good, healthy or experienced players on defense to do much better than they’ve done under Ryan. There are a lot of reasons for that, including decisions on draft choices who have not panned out and signing free agents who either could not stay healthy or whose performance declined after the big pay day.
Other critics might feel that Ryan is merely the scapegoat since the NFL has become a league of “what have you done for me lately?” Miami and Tennessee fired their head coaches before the halfway mark in the season, the first time that had ever happened in the NFL. Are there more changes on the way? The stories suggesting Sean Payton will leave after this season suddenly gain some traction as the team’s play continues to plummet. Will he leave? Will owner Tom Benson clean house? Who knows? But Fletcher Mackel also wrote an interesting piece on his blog to the effect that Benson is above all a businessman who is motivated by success and is not satisfied with failure.
A salesman who sells the most cars in New Orleans one year endears himself to Benson for that year, but his success becomes his curse. He merely set the bar higher and is expected to do it every year. I can guarantee you that Benson’s expectations after his Super Bowl championship was that his team would do it again and again. It’s been six years now, and the current season looks like it will be the team’s third losing season, without a playoff appearance, in the past four years.
I remember another Saints head coach who never won a Super Bowl but whose team recorded the franchise's first winning seasons and ranked fourth in the league in victories over a seven-year span. But when his next three teams went 8-8, 7-9 and 7-9, Jim Mora was gone. Nothing would surprise me now.
by Jim W. Miller