Friday, 24 August 2012 10:37

Saints success with Vitt, Kromer, Spagnuolo and Carmichael could leave Payton dry

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  payton2blue   When Sean Payton's one-year suspension ends, he might find the cupboard bare when he returns to his Saints office. Certainly not of players. Drew Brees will end his career in New Orleans, and most of the core Saint players are under contract for the foreseeable future. No, Payton might find that his absence led to a mass audition of his assistants to run their own shops. And there would be merit to that logic.

     Joe Vitt, Aaron Kromer, Steve Spagnuolo and Pete Carmichael Jr. all could be candidates for head coaching jobs about the time Payton returns to reclaim his locker. You earn your bones when the bullets start flying, and all four aforementioned assistants will soon be dodging and ducking while rallying their own troops to take out the enemy. Bullets have never flown so frequently around the Saints organization as they have during the past offseason. Bountygate, Brees holdout, wild stories of bugging devices, the commissioner suspensions, players suing the commissioner and other lawsuits being prepared.



     Despite the happy face everybody in the organization is showing, some of that fallout threatens to carry over into the regular season. It will be up to the ability of the men in charge to keep all the distractions at the door, while motivating a good team into greatness. Succeed at that, and the coaches responsible will be coveted to run more traditional, or at least stress-free, organizations in 2013 and beyond.  Let's look at each candidate, and see what their audition entails.

     I met Joe Vitt when I was a sportswriter covering the Baltimore Colts in 1979, and Vitt was one of the league's first strength coaches. I followed his career, would see him on occasion, and grew to respect the job he was doing. That respect has grown even more after watching him operate as interim head coach after Payton was suspended for the year. He slid into the main chair seamlessly, displaying great confidence in his own ability while proving he has the confidence of those around him.  Like most coaches, he probably would rather have a root canal than face the press every day, but Vitt has done it gracefully and actually appears to enjoy the repartee. He hasn't coached a game yet and won't until Game 7, but he looks the part so far.

     Vitt's suspension for the first six games has given offensive line coach Aaron Kromer the opportunity to sit in the big chair for the first part of the season. It is Kromer's responsibility that the Saints show some early foot and not put themselves into a hole too tough to dig out of. Those who know him say he is a Payton clone and a certain head coach in the future. Four or more wins during his audition would go a long way toward speeding up his timetable.

     Two other candidates can also earn their stripes with competent performances by their individual units. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has a track record at developing stingy defenses that can win championships, plus he has three years’ experience as the Rams' head coach. If the Saints defense can perform at a high level in his first season, Spags could earn another shot sooner rather than later. On the other side of the ball, Carmichael has shown he can work with Brees to keep the offense running at high efficiency, as he did during Payton's brief injury absence last year. Teams like young coaches from a winning organization, and another solid showing by Brees and the boys under Carmichael's direction would improve his chances of going out on his own in 2013. 

     All this sounds like a bit of good news mixed with bad news. The good news would be if all the above perform ably and the Saints enjoy a blockbuster year under their leadership. The bad news would be that Payton might lose as many as four key assistants who could be head coaching candidates next year. But since the good news far outweighs the bad, let's hope Who Dat Nation will not have to worry about it, at least until the Saints' final game, at the Mercedes Benzon Superdome on February 3.


jim Miller's new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores and at his website:


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