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Grading the Saints 2015 season: Coaching

The temptation is there to go over each coaching position and grade them all, however I’m not a glutton for punishment. I’m going to go over the relevant coaches, and the focus is going to be on those whose performance most directly affected the season in my opinion. That means that the defensive line coach (Johnson) for instance isn’t getting a grade because frankly there wasn’t enough talent there for me to give him any kind of meaningful grade. On the other hand Payton and Dennis Allen are not only getting grades, but will be graded on an absolute scale (relative to the rest of the league not just their specific situation) so expect me to be harsher in some areas on those two than on others (also more generous).

Brett Ingalls: (now fired) C-

Ingalls gets a barely passing grade in my book because the offensive line wasn’t the unmitigated disaster that it was last year, and the injuries affecting the line prevent me from failing him outright. However, Ingalls was let go by the team for a reason. The Saints offensive line has looked frequently unprepared, has displayed poor technique, and has failed to develop talent or consistency. The biggest nail in Ingalls coffin (in my opinion) is the fact that there clearly was talent there (Lelito’s performance late in the season showed that), however it wasn’t developed. Also the way that Peat was used and developed was in my book less than impressive. The fact is that the Saints not only need to identify and acquire better talent here, but also better utilize the talent that the team does have. Ingalls has failed to do that throughout his tenure here, and while not horrible he’s been far from good.

Joe Vitt: C+

I know that Vitt is public enemy number 1 among most fans, and there is good reason for that as his track record as the Saints linebackers coach has been far from stellar. To be honest it hasn’t been even good. However, Vitt was given two promising rookies this year and they did show at least SOME growth. Vitt’s leadership with the team and his popularity among the players is largely why he gets a ‘+’ here, but he’s been at least average this season. I still would like to see a new coach with the linebackers group (even if they keep Vitt), but based on this years results his job is probably safe. The performances of Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha should secure that. The one factor that I really do believe that is forgotten/dismissed by many of the fans who want him to be fired is his relationship with Sean Payton. Joe Vitt has a very good reputation among his past players as a mentor and a teacher as well as the trust of Sean Payton. I honestly believe that the blunt statements that can be expected from a personality like Joe Vitt are of great value to a team and a locker room, but he clearly needs to be phased out as far as the coaching of the linebackers goes.

Greg McMahon: D-

The margin of error I allowed here was incredibly low, meaning that McMahon was as close as he possibly could be to an F without actually getting one. McMahon is easily the coach whose getting held accountable for the entirety of his tenure more than just one season, because if there is one thing we know about him its that he’s consistent. Outside of Thomas Morestead not a single player has enjoyed sustained success under McMahon, but the biggest mark against him is the success of others after they have escaped him. Darren Sproles success as a return man in both San Diego and Philadelphia is the polar opposite of what he did in New Orleans, and I would find it hard to believe any explanation (excuse) in his favor to remain the Saints special teams coach. The Saints have consistently done poorly in kick coverage, choose the wrong kickers (Hocker over Hopkins ring a bell?), have blocked horribly for their own kicks, and struggled to get any productivity in the return game. A ‘third’ of the game is an abject failure minus one player, and while a couple of errors could be forgiven, abject failure is not acceptable. I understand that McMahon’s job is probably secure because of his relationship with Sean…but that doesn’t save his grade or make me happy about it.

Pete Carmichael: B

Carmichael can be a bit tricky to gauge because it’s hard to really know just how much input he has on the offense. Sean Payton, was, is, and will continue to be the best offensive mind in the NFL and also one of the games greatest gameplanners. Because of that the roles which would traditionally belong to an offensive coordinator are already occupied in large part by the head coach. Still I doubt Payton would keep Carmichael around this long if he wasn’t valuable and he clearly has the respect of Payton and Brees. That alone tells me that he is above average at his position and a coach the Saints want to hold on to. Carmichael has a very difficult job in that he has to contribute to the flow and execution of the offense while managing not to step on the toes of his hall of fame quarterback and head coach. Carmichael has had to take over play calling duties at times as has done well, and that combined with his longevity with the team leads me to believe he is a quality coach worth keeping for a long time.

Dennis Allen: B-

A certain larger than life (or at least a smart car) defensive coordinator started this season, and his grade would have been quite a bit lower. However, in my opinion Dennis Allen showed enough to warrant a full year as the Saints defensive coordinator. What makes me give Allen a good grade is largely his ability to isolate the few areas where the Saints defensive was performing well and trying to focus on them. The Saints defense showed a marked improvement with its fundamentals, hustle, and activity to the ball after Allen took over. Discipline and effort are arguably the two biggest keys to having a good defense, and the Saints showed significant improvement in both areas under Allen. Certainly there were still times where players uncovered, but a caveat must be made (in BOTH defensive coordinators favor) to the fact that the Saints were devastated by injuries and simply lacked NFL quality talent at multiple positions for most of the year.

Make no mistake there is no excuse for the horrid performances that occurred under Allen’s watch whether Rob Ryan was the DC or not. The Saints defense was a travesty this year and an embarrassment that did little more than waste another great year from our hall of fame quarterback. The reason that Allen gets a decent grade though is that I’m not just grading him on the performance of the defense as a whole, but how I believe he effected it. The defense DID improve under Allen and I don’t think its a fluke that Brandon Browner had his best games once Allen took over. There was only ever one name I would have simply replaced him with and not had my doubts, and Vic Fangio isn’t walking through the Saints door. The bottom line is that the talent and situation Allen was forced to coach was one I’m not sure ANY defensive coach could have fixed. The Saints crippling injuries to both cornerback and linebacker, as well as the simple lack of even mid tier defensive line talent (minus Cam) were the biggest reasons this year’s defense was so bad. Rob Ryan WAS a problem, he wasn’t THE problem. The question now is can Dennis Allen become part of the solution and his performance at the end of the year gives me enough hope to think its possible. He has earned his chance.

Sean Payton: A

In many ways I have saved the best for last here. Sean Payton was, and remains, one of the best offensive minded coaches in the game of football. Without question there is a vocal minority of Saints fans who believe some combination of Payton having lost his touch, is bored with the team, wants to move on, is the real problem, or some other reasoning for why they cheered at the idea of Sean leaving. While I respect their right to voice their opinions I also have my own to call them ridiculous. There has not at anytime been any amount of credible evidence to support any of that, and especially that Payton has ‘lost his touch’. In fact I think Sean did some of his best work this past year. Let’s take a look at his season as a whole to properly understand Why I gave him an A.

Going back to last season Payton had a fractured locker room with a number of selfish knuckleheads who cared a great deal more about themselves than their teammates. He had to get rid of his biggest weapon in Graham, a young wr just coming into his own in Kenny Stills, and had to bight the bullet and swallow a massive cap hit to get rid of the biggest cancer of them all: Junior ‘pootytang’ Gallete. It’s possible, but it would be very difficult to have a tougher start to a season than that. The Saints had some positive breaks with finding Willie Snead and Delvin Breaux outside of the draft to create a spark on the team, however that was the end of the team’s good fortune. With the exception of a couple of games the Saints weakside linebacker spot was occupied by players who don’t belong starting in the NFL. The Saints suffered a series of injuries at corner that forced FA signing Brandon Browner to become the #2 corner for the team, a position that was never intended for him. On top of all that defensive turmoil the Saints best player not named Brees (Terron Armstead) was hurt pretty much all year, Zack Strief tried to kill Brees repeatedly (yes, I know it wasn’t intentional), and the Saints only true offensive weapon is a 5’10” second year wideout who is suddenly thrust into being the key to the entire offense before he’s even fully developed chemistry with the quarterback.

When I put things that way its a miracle to me that the Saints were 7-9 and not 2-14. Even when the season got to its darkest and there looked to be no hope for the Saints now, or in the future, Payton stayed true and ‘did his job’. Outside of one game (Washington) the Saints team fought as hard as they could to win in each game. Effort never waned, there wasn’t a time where I ever felt this team quit on their coach, or on each other. Payton absolutely deserves credit for that. One of the principle responsibilities of a head coach is to manage the psyche of his team and make sure they show up each Sunday ready to play. It sounds simple and easy, it isn’t.

Payton’s leadership is the reason he gets an A as the team’s head coach who just rebuilt the team’s culture in one year, but he also deserves the grade as the teams game planner. The Saints greatest weapon is a small speed demon of a wideout in Brandin Cooks, a very good player but no Jimmy Graham from a match-up perspective. What was Payton’s response? Put teams in a bind where either Cooks is going to get a 1v1 matchup that he will win, or let Snead and the rest of the offense pick you apart. Payton traded away an under performing player to get a versatile TE early in the year to create a 3 TE system that allowed him to dictate matchups without the presence of a player like Graham. Really though, I don’t need to go over every little thing Sean Payton did well this year to prove he is still a great game planner. All you need to know is that the vaunted Carolina Panthers defense (which is almost as good as some think they are) got dissected by Luke McCown. That was ALL Payton make no mistake. Fans might be bored with their coach and suffer from a bit of recency bias, but as far as I’m concerned Payton is graded per his performance relative to his peers and not many could have squeezed 7-9 out of this roster, and even fewer could get the team to fight and develop throughout the end of the season to help give hope for the future.