Wednesday, 18 January 2012 15:17

Payton: New Orleans Saints Starts Look For Defensive Coordinator

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payton2In this season's final news conference Saints coach Sean Payton discussed the highlights of a 14-4 season and the disappointment in not going further into the postseason.

Payton didn't mention names on his list to replace Gregg Williams, but he will start the search with Steve Spagnuolo, former Rams coach. It wouldn't surprise me if the search ended there as well.
 Spagnuolo will meet with Payton on Wednesday and reports are Payton is ready to hire him.

Spagnuolo may have his choice of jobs. The Colts could be interested in him and the Eagles might also be a fit. But the Saints appear to be the most attractive team for him.

The quickest route for Spagnuolo to get back on the head coaching radar is to win a Super Bowl as a coordinator.

Payton's news conference: 

Opening Statement:

“We finished our team meeting yesterday.  There are just a few items of business that we would normally have at this time of the year that we handled -- met with players, met with several coaches.  To date, just so we’re all on the same page, Aaron Kromer last week had been requested permission for an interview with St. Louis and he had a brief meeting when we arrived in the Bay Area, but it was just as Jeff (Fisher) was accepting the position.  Pete Carmichael Jr. had a request sent in by the Oakland Raiders.  They have not formally interviewed, so we’ll see what happens there with Pete.  Gregg Williams has accepted a position with St. Louis.  This is Curtis Johnson’s last week.  So there are a lot of moving parts with our staff along with the team.  I’ve said this before, in a lot of ways it’s a complement to our program.  We’ll begin the process of filling in these positions, the ones that are currently open which will be the wide receivers position and the defensive coordinator position, and we’ll try to find the right fit for these jobs.  It was a disappointing way to finish the season obviously, and that’s the hard thing about the finality of the postseason in our league.  We’ll take time while we’re away from it.  We’ll begin our player evaluations.  Staff will be off for a week next week, come back and begin the process of not only our team, but other pro free agents and kind of set our calendar at that point in time with the Senior Bowl coming up and the Combine coming up, although it will be a little different this year with the new CBA, but it will be the standard business schedule for the next month and a half to two months.”

Do you have anyone in consideration for the defensive coordinator position that fits a certain system you want to run?

“I think most importantly is finding the right fit.  I think we have flexibility.  We’re certainly built a certain way.  We’re set up a certain way, but I haven’t really begun that process.  Just having finished playing this past weekend, we’ll take our time and we’ll be smart about it and try to visit with a number of people.”

How is the health of Pierre Thomas right now?

“Very good.  At halftime I saw him, and it was a lot better than maybe I had expected.  He’s going to be just fine.”

How do you reflect on the past two seasons?

“I think your standards continue to get high and are high for what we want to accomplish.  Just shortly after a loss like that, it’s hard to maybe come up with a summary.  Certainly there were a lot of good things about the season, and yet you have that pit in your stomach with the way it ended so that’s difficult.  Having had a season where it ended with a win, where your last game was a win, you know what that’s like and for everyone else in the postseason that’s not the case.  That being said, we aspire to win championships here.  That’s our goal when the season starts.  It’s our last goal – win the division, put ourselves in the best position possible with seeding, and then win a Super Bowl.  We’ll continue to strive for that.  That’s what we set out to do.”

How challenging is it to have Drew Brees and Carl Nicks, two of the best at their positions, being free agents following the end of the league year and knowing you’re going to have to spend a lot of money to get them back?

“I think each year the puzzle is different.  Last year it was heading into potentially a lockout season with 27 free agents.  This season certainly we have some real good players that are potentially free agents.  I think every year there’s that challenge.  It’s something that Mickey (Loomis) and I will spend a lot of time on.  He’s already been working on it closely with Khai (Harley) and Ryan Pace and Rick Reiprish.  I think we do a good job in that regard.  Part of it is really spending time on the evaluations and looking closely at your team and trying to look at ways where despite however many wins you just had, where can we improve and where can we be better a year from now?  I think that technically begins now, but it’s already a work kind of in progress.  Certainly there are challenges though, and we recognize that.”

Do you feel like you guys have a good chance of bringing those two players back?

“I think so.  They’re potentially expensive because they’re good football players and are guys that have come into our program, developed, played well and been a part of a lot of wins.  I think we’ve been fairly judicious in regards to what we’ve done.  We’ve been smart and practical, and yet each year we’ve been able to look to improve.  That’s kind of the approach we take.”

Do you have any type of timetable for when you want to get the Drew Brees deal done?

“That’s a good question.  I think if that question were asked to Mickey (Loomis) or Drew right now, I don’t think there would be any timetable.  Certainly the sooner the better, and yet I think this time away here initially after the season ended will be good for everyone to kind of remove yourself from the emotion of the season.  I think it will be something that would certainly be on our priority list.”

Can you distinguish the difference in the defensive performance in 2009 compared to this past season?

“I think sometimes the turnovers come in bunches.  I thought specifically towards the end we were playing probably our best football offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game in that stretch of however many wins it was in a row.  We were taking it away and securing the ball.  Early on when we had tough losses at St. Louis or Tampa Bay, there were some lessons there for us, and we felt our goal each week was to improve in those areas.  It’s hard to draw a direct comparison from one team to the other.  They’re different teams.  Certainly in our game against San Francisco when you have five turnovers it’s going to be hard to win a game like that.  Three of them come on offense and two in the kicking game, that’s difficult.  It’s the same thing that kind of bit Green Bay a little bit and hurt us as well.”

Was it Gregg Williams’ decision to leave?

“Yes, you’re talking about a guy who’s close with a guy he’s worked with for a number of years.  We visited yesterday.  I think there were a lot of things just looking at this move that didn’t surprise people.  I think it was a matter of getting through the season and not allowing it to be a distraction a week ago in the playoffs.  We visited and spent some time on it and went from there.  Our visit is between him and me.”

Did you make an offer for him to stay?

“We never got to that spot.”

Did it not surprise you Gregg Williams wanted to leave just because he and Jeff Fisher are good friends?

“You look closely at it and there are a couple of people who are just like that for me in this profession that I would at any time like to work for – guys like Jon Gruden or Bill Parcells, guys that are huge influences with me.  That’s kind of the profession.  What’s important now is moving forward and finding a candidate that fits what we’re looking for.  This becomes, just as it is with players and just as it is with coaches, it becomes about really the team.  That’s what churns first.  That’s the number one thing.  That will be me some day, it will be all these players, and you just hope that the program is in a position better than when you took over.  It’s happened already in a matter of six years with a number of players and coaches that were important pieces of what we’ve done and certainly Gregg has been that for us and meant a lot to us and was a big reason we had success in ’09.  That’s kind of where we head right now.”

Will you look within your staff to fill that position?

“We’ll see.  I’ll keep you guys posted.”

Have guys like Joe Vitt or Bill Johnson always preferred to be position coaches?

“I don’t know if I’d say that.  I don’t think it’s fair to say that.  We would always look internally and spend a lot of time on our own people and then also look outside and then make a decision.”

When a new defensive coordinator does come in, how much influence does he have on what players will be playing on the defensive side of the ball?

“Those have always been decisions Mickey (Loomis) and I start with.  We’ll pay attention to recommendations, but those would be decisions that from a personnel standpoint, who we draft and who we sign will always be decisions that he and I will spend a lot of time on.  There’s a process we have with our pro scouts, college scouts, there’s a process we have with our assistant coaches, and we try to gather as much information as we can on these players.  There’s certainly a profile we’re looking for.  Now can that change based on scheme?  Certainly, and we would pay attention to that.  But the coach or the scout is all part of the process of finding the right fit for who we’re looking for.”

Does it matter the experience at the defensive coordinator position as to who you will hire?

“No, I think the real talented coaches come in all age groups and they come from all over.  They come from college, they come from our league, some have been head coaches and some haven’t.  I just look back at my own experiences and someone gave me an opportunity for the first time.  I think you try to pay attention to all those things and you really try to do as much preparation and homework as you can on the candidates and spend as much time visiting with them, but I don’t think you just try to profile what you think is exactly what you’re looking for.  What if that guy is not as good as someone outside of your profile?  I think we just try to keep an open mind.”

Would you agree with people who say this Saints team was better than the ’09 Saints team?

“I think the proof really each year is we’re graded on one thing – wins and losses.  The 2009 team won a Super Bowl and this team didn’t.  I don’t think we need two weeks or four weeks to reflect on that.  I don’t have to lump them or organize them or put them in a file tomorrow or ever.  When you go back to ’06, we’ve won Wild Card games, we’ve won Divisional games, we’ve won Championship games and a Super Bowl, and we’ve lost all of those games as well.  We’ve lost a Wild Card game, we’ve lost in the Divisional round, we’ve lost an NFC title game.  You get away from it and you regroup and you re-evaluate where you’re at and you try to improve your team and improve starting with yourself and your coaching methods and really begin from the start again at some point.  Now, you have to be careful that it doesn’t begin too quickly.  The next season comes and it’s another journey.  It’s a different season and you just try to hopefully learn from maybe the things that set you back.  There were a lot of great things that were accomplished certainly this year, but we don’t have to lump them together.  You guys can lump them together.  That’s your job.”

You sometimes talk about ‘our time.’  Do you ever think about how long ‘our time’ is?

“No, I just meant that there was no beginning and end to it.  That could be a 12-year period.  It’s just your opportunity to win and your opportunity to be successful and your opportunity to be functional and one of the contenders each year.  It’s your opportunity to try to achieve and win a championship again.  I think that’s what it means more than anything.”

Would it stun you if Drew Brees is not here next year?

“Yes, I don’t even know if stun would be the right word.  Again, I don’t see that happening.”

Do you think this is a really good team that needs a tweak or is it something more than that in terms of changes?

“I think it’s hard to define a tweak or a major reshaping.  I just think you have to look closely and try to make the right decisions regarding not only your staff, but the players and you try to look closely at everything.  There have been years where maybe we’ve had more movement or change.  It seems like every year though there are players that come in that are new and players that are on the team that are no longer with the team.  The same is said for the coaching staff.  Our job is to look closely at how we can improve.  I don’t think Mickey and I would sit down and say we just need to tweak.  I just think we need to begin to work.  Last year it seemed at this point in the season prior to free agency and the lockout, it seemed almost daunting the work ahead of us in regards to securing and resigning a number of players.  Each year those are challenges and that’s what makes it hard to win in our league.  It’s difficult to win.  We’ll look closely at it and try to be objective and remove ourselves from here a little the next few weeks and then kind of get rid of a little bit of the emotion from the last loss and try to look closely at what we can do to get better.”

Do you feel like you got beat by the 49ers’ best player in Vernon Davis?

“Certainly he made some big plays down the stretch.  I thought we defended him well for most of the game and he came up with some big plays, no different than Jimmy Graham coming up with some big plays.  It just turned into that type of game towards the end.  (Michael) Crabtree is one of their better players.  I think it was an unusual finish.  It was one in which a lot of points were scored in a very short amount of time towards the very end.  It was almost who had the ball last finish.  They made enough plays and more plays than we did in the end.  I think the turnovers hurt us more than anything else.  I was somewhat excited to be down three point having four turnovers at the half.  Those are a lot of possessions.  I think there were a number of things that hurt us in that game, not just one player.”

Do you feel like your defense is less formidable than it was a year or two ago?

“No, one of the reasons we won 14 games this year is because we did a lot of good things on defense.  Certainly from a statistical standpoint there are things that jump out statistically, but what we accomplished, we accomplished as a team this season.  It wasn’t just one side of the ball or the other.  I thought we had a lot of improvement in the kicking game.  We won a game in the last play in Tennessee on defense.  We won game a game in overtime at Atlanta to put ourselves in position for a game-winning field goal.  Those all go into that record.  When the offseason comes, how do we improve ourselves in every area?  We’ll never look at the offense and say it will just be fine.  You guys will write that, but it won’t just be fine.  We have to find the next Carl Nicks and the next Jahri Evans and the next Marques Colston and the next Jimmy Graham and we have to do the same thing defensively.  Nothing will be just fine.  We have to continue to develop and draft and look at and acquire young players that will be in this program so our time is 12 years and not just two or three more years so that we create what is tradition and what is a culture and a program that has some staying power to it and not just a couple of years or six years, but is longer than that.  That’s the challenge and that’s exciting, but not yet.  Today is too quick, but it’s coming.  I think most importantly it’s the proper evaluation of what you have in the building.  That’s where we go in the next couple of weeks really.”

What were your emotions as you watched Sunday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants?

“Just disappointment, because you’re still playing through the game you just played and you’re watching to some degree what happened to Green Bay in regards to the turnovers repeat itself.  You recognize that’s how this league is and that missed opportunity.”

by Ed Staton


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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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