Okay, so that headline is a little sensationalized.
It should read — who’ll replace Sean Payton…if he actually leaves for the Cowboys?
Look, I truly believe Sean Payton is remaining in New Orleans. I think he’ll agree to a contract extension before the new year.
If I had to put odds on Payton remaining with the organization he turned into a winner — I’d put those odds at 98%.
I think Payton is in an amazing situation in New Orleans. He’s one of the top paid coaches in the NFL, he’s got a locker room full of talented players who love him, a future Hall of Fame quarterback at the top of the career, a GM who allows him to call the shots about football related matters and a supportive owner who doesn’t meddle into football ops.
All that said, Payton is a family man, and his two children reside full-time in Dallas — so the 2% chance he bolts NOLA for Big-D is something Saints fans should (and are) paying close attention to.
So, let’s talk doomsday scenarios. If Dallas bombs out and misses the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season and if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones fires coach Jason Garrett and if Sean Payton decides to return to Texas to coach America’s Team and to be closer to his children — what would the Saints do?
How do you replace the guy that turned around one of the worst franchises in NFL history?
The simple answer is — Payton is irreplaceable. But, if the Saints ever had to move on without Payton, who would owner Tom Benson hire?
1. Joe Vitt:
Since Vitt returned from his suspension the Saints are playing very well. If Payton left for Dallas — and he didn’t take Vitt with him — Vitt makes the most sense to become the Saints head coach. The Saints are built to win, so keeping things intact is important. Vitt can run the team — just as he’s been doing in Payton’s absence and the Saints top assistants can continue to work with their respective units. Hiring Vitt keeps the organization on the winning track it’s been on.
2. Steve Spagunolo:
After covering Spags this season it’s easy to see why he was hired as the St. Louis Rams head coach. He’s a knowledgeable, personable, smart, well-respected coach. Promoting Spags changes the dynamic of the Saints a bit — Spags doesn’t come with all the machismo and bravado of Payton. Spagnuolo reminds me more of Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy — as compared to Payton being like Jon Gruden and Bill Parcells. Having learned from one stint as a head coach — I believe Spags would be a good choice for Saints head coach if Payton left for the Cowboys.
3 & 4: Jon Gruden or Jay Gruden:
Former Raiders and Bucs coach Jon Gruden is a friend of the New Orleans organization and if you watch him at all on ESPN — a true fan of Drew Brees and the Saints. I think Tom Benson’s first call would be to Jon Gruden to see if he wanted to replace his friend Sean Payton. I also think Gruden would have interest in the job. In all honesty, if Payton left and Gruden were interested I think he should be the first choice. As I stated earlier, the Saints are built to win — so Gruden’s intensity, work ethic and knowledge may be just what this organization needs to remain a Super Bowl contender. That said, I think Jay Gruden may be the better fit for the Saints. Like Payton 6 years ago, Jay Gruden is a tremendous offensive mind who’s paid his dues coming up through the Arena League and the United Football League. Jay Gruden passed on the opportunity to interview for head coaching positions in Jacksonville and St. Louis last season. If the Saints approached Jay Gruden, he’d bolt Cincy as offensive coordinator.
5. Winston Moss:
A former Saints assistant coach under Jim Haslett — Moss has served as Mike McCarthy’s assistant head coach in Green Bay since 2007. McCarthy of course knew Moss from NOLA because he too was on Jim Haslett’s staff. I’m not sure of the relationship between Mickey Loomis and Moss — but if it’s a good one this could be an easy decision. Moss would take over an offensive situation similar to what’s he’s used to in Green Bay — and perhaps Moss could help Steve Spagnuolo breathe life into a defense that’s been the Saints Achilles heel each of the past three seasons.
In the end, I think the 20 minutes it took me to write this blog were a total waste of time because I think Sean Payton will be coaching the Saints for many years to come. But, if he goes, you now have a few names to toss around.