The Saints are about to make one of the most critical decisions in franchise history.
Get it wrong, and it could set back much of the progress made over the last 16 years. So, good thing there is such an obvious answer that the question will never have the opportunity to evolve into a riddle.
New Orleans can look far and wide and canvass the league for potential candidates if it wants, but all roads should lead back to Dennis Allen as the team’s next head coach. Other teams might not be smart enough to see it and include him in their coaching searches even though he should be a default option, but the defensive coordinator is not only the best person for the job. He’s the right person for this specific situation.
This hire is different from all the other ones that will take place across the league over the next few weeks. The Saints aren’t looking for a coach because things have gone awry, and they need a new culture and a different way of doing things. The team has an opening at head coach because the guy leading a successful program decided to step away. The best thing for New Orleans isn’t something new or different. The best answer is continuity.
The Saints very well could find an outside candidate who could come in here and have success. Some of them might even enjoy more success than Allen throughout their careers. There are few things more worthless than instant reactions to coaching hires. There are so many things that determine success and failure that it is impossible to have a reasonable idea of how the future will go the day these things happen. All you can really do is make the best bet and see how everything works out.
Allen would be an extremely smart bet.
When you have someone in the building like Allen, and you know his work and how he operates better than anyone else, why would you want to place a bet on another candidate? The team just watched him finish with a top-five defense for the second year in a row. New Orleans also finished third in points allowed per drive (1.63) and yards (31.28). Impressive numbers made even more impressive when you realize they faced 193 drives last year, the second-most in the NFL. The two teams above the Saints in points per drive – Buffalo and New England – saw 178 and 169 drives, respectively.
Who has better credentials? Matt Eberflus, who just got hired by the Bears, led an Indianapolis defense that finished 17th in points allowed per drive. Maybe that isn’t a fair assessment, given that talent and circumstance can all play a part in how successful someone is in a particular role, but if we’re looking at how people have done in their jobs, there aren’t many who can match Allen. Anyone paying attention has also seen how much players have improved under his leadership. There are stars across this defense, but not all were shining like they are now when they arrived here. Someone like Demario Davis going from a decent player with the Jets to a full-blown superstar with the Saints speaks to these points.
One of the things that stood out when Sean Payton spoke about his retirement is that he again, 16 years later, brought up that his evaluation of Rob Ninkovich was wrong. Didn’t matter that he was right about other players like Marques Colston and Zach Strief, who were also part of that 2006 draft class. The mistake is the one that sticks with him because he had the right person in the building but lacked the proper vision to make it work. Seeing Ninkovich succeed with the Patriots is something that will burn him for the rest of his life.
That’s how these things work. There is no fix when you have the right person in your organization and get the decision wrong. If the Saints decide to hire someone else, and that leads to Allen’s departure, there is no fixing the mistake if things don’t work out. And at this point, going another direction would simply be a choice to do something different for the sake of doing something different.
Beyond the obvious credentials Allen would keep in New Orleans if he gets the role, he would also ensure that the extremely solid foundation Payton built would stay in place. There would be no need to go out and find coaches and hope that the new defensive line coach or new wide receivers coach or whoever else would be as good as the people hired. Allen would likely keep most everyone in place and run it back as business as usual.
That would also mean keeping Payton’s offense around, assuming offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael would stay in place. Obviously, no one is a direct replacement for Payton. He’s one of the greatest of all time for a reason, but Carmichael has long been qualified to take on more responsibility and run an offense as if it is his own. All he needs is the right players to succeed, and we’ve seen him do it before when he’s had to step up and fill in for Payton.
Even better, Allen already has working relationships with all the members of the front office and knows how to work with the scouting staff, which will be critically important as the team works to reload at some key positions this offseason.
There’s some merit to looking around and making sure that you’re checking all the boxes and making the right decisions. There’s value in talking to several different people if for no other reason than to get information on how other people around the league view your operation and roster. There is valuable insight there.
But it’s hard to look at this situation and fail to see the perfect guy for the job is right there.