Interesting Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About the New Orleans Saints Coaching Staff
By John Hendrix
With the New Orleans Saints looking to wipe away the misfortune of 2014’s abysmal 7-9 season, change was needed.
The team has made some major strides to address their coaching situation, and recently announced a host of changes on February 11. By having a staff of twenty-four coaches over various aspects of the team on the payroll, it feels like there’s little to no excuses for having this team command discipline and set the tone for the 2015 season.
With a combination of new and old faces, I’ve performed some digging to find out some interesting ‘fun facts’ about some of the respective members of the coaching staff.
Offensive assistant Greg Lewis is the only Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver to catch a touchdown in two franchise Super Bowl appearances
New addition Greg Lewis might not have had a Super Bowl victory in his playing time with the NFL, but does have his name remembered as a member of the Eagles. Philly has appeared in two Super Bowls in their franchise history (1980 & 2004), but came up short in both outings, losing by a combined score of 51-31.
The 1980 matchup was a blowout, as the Oakland Raiders pummeled the Eagles 27-10. The 2004 clash was a much closer affair, but the New England Patriots would prevail over the Eagles 24-21. As good as the receiver names were on those respective rosters (Terrell Owens, Todd Pinkston, Charlie Smith, Harold Carmichael), it was Lewis who would be the only wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass. Running back Brian Westbrook (2004) and tight end Keith Krepfle (1980) also caught touchdowns for the Eagles.
Lewis also received an ESPY Award for his role in the 2009 Minnesota Vikings-San Francisco 49ers finish. Lewis caught Brett Favre’s 32-yard prayer to shock the 49ers with seconds to go. Lewis was the hero, and the Vikings won 27-24.
Defensive assistant/Linebackers coach James Willis was XFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2001
There’s already some local Louisiana flavor associated with James Willis, who spent the past two seasons with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns. Willis is a 14-year coaching veteran, and had a seven-year playing career in football. Willis spent six seasons in the NFL, and shares a record as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles for the longest interception return in franchise history.
Willis intercepted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman in a regular season game in 1996 four yards deep into his own end zone, return it 14 yards, and would lateral to cornerback Troy Vincent to take it the other 90 yards.
Willis’ last action as a football player was in 2001 with the short-lived XFL days. Willis played for the Birmingham Thunderbolts. Despite his team finishing out at 2-8, Willis would earn defensive player of the year honors. He’d finish with 70 total tackles (52 solo, 18 assists).
Sean Payton coached hall of fame running back Marshall Faulk
Many might already be familiar with Sean Payton‘s playing days as a quarterback in the 1980s as a member of the Chicago Bears during the 1987 strike season. While his debut was coincidentally against the black and goal, his playing career only lasted three games. He’d enter into coaching in 1988.
Coach Payton began his coaching career at San Diego State University. He would bounce around a few colleges during the next few years, but from 1992-1993, Payton would return to San Diego State University, and would coach future hall of fame running back Marshall Faulk. Faulk was a first-team All-American from 1991-1993, and was the second overall pick in the 1994 draft. I’m sure you are quite familiar with the rest of his story, as Faulk became one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL.
Rob Ryan played defense opposite of his twin brother Rex in college
The Ryan brothers spent a great deal of time together, and would find themselves as teammates at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in 1981. Rob and Rex played defensive end, and would both hang up their playing careers after the season, and would both graduate in 1987.
"Rob’s introduction to SWOSU football was no different than many of the freshmen today. Much of it was spent at the wrong end of a tackling dummy or as practice squad fodder. Rob and his brother were cofounders of the “Ryan Squad,” which was the nine-person scout team that hit the starters much harder than they were accustomed to. Oh yes, they were skirmishes and insults exchanged, many of which you’ve no doubt heard about. (SWOSU Alumni Association)"
The “Ryan Squad” has a nice ring to it, and I would have loved to be a part of the practice sessions to watch these two go at it. Many thought the Ryan brothers would have a renewed rivalry, so to speak, with the then head coaching vacancy for the Altanta Falcons. Unfortunately, that never transpired, and the Ryan brothers won’t face head to head anytime soon.
Other tidbits on more coaches:
- Running backs coach Joel Thomas helped produced two 1,000-yard running backs for the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2014, and was they were the only team to do so. It was the second time in team history that the college accomplished such a feat.
- Offensive line coach Bret Ingalls also coached Marshall Faulk at San Diego State University along with Sean Payton. Ingalls was on staff with the Aztecs from 1989-1993. He served as the offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and running backs coach.
- Newly appointed outside linebackers coach Brian Young has been with the franchise since 2004. Young, as many don’t recall, played for the Saints as a defensive end from 2004-2008. Although injuries cut his career short, he was a key member in the 2006 run.
- Quarterbacks coach Mike Neu coached the New Orleans VooDoo from 2004-2008. He finished with a 32-21 record.
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