After years of fan derision, the Saints finally parted ways with LB coach Joe Vitt.
Along with Vitt, the Saints also let go Special Teams coach Greg McMahon and defensive line coach Bill Johnson. Throw in assistant ST coach Stan Kwan and assistant LB coach James Willis, and that’s five coaches let go on the day.
It’s Christmas come again for Saints fans. Especially with Vitt.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m sure Vitt brought a lot to the organization, and that the team will need to find a competent replacement. After all, when Payton was suspended for a year he chose Vitt to serve as head coach in the interim. But we’ve all been calling for Vitt’s head for years. Since Sean Payton’s come to New Orleans, the Saints have yet to develop a single linebacker. In eleven years. That’s on Vitt’s head, if it’s on anyone.
His frustrating role on the team culminated in the disappointment that is Stephone Anthony. Anthony was by all accounts a competent prospect, who had a somewhat solid rookie year as a starter. He then regressed dramatically in his sophomore year.
It remains to be seen who the Saints will bring in as their next LB coach. The hope must certainly be that, whoever he is, he can develop Anthony into a starter, or at least a competent backup.
The move came as a surprise because Payton has always had a close relationship with Joe Vitt. I always imagined that, if he was let go as the LB position coach, he’d stay on as an assistant head coach.
At the moment, it’s been reported that Vitt and the Saints mutually parted ways. But to me, that sounds like Nick Saban saying Lane Kiffin and he “mutually” decided to part ways. Yeah, right.
You have to wonder whether Dennis Allen had a hand in this move. If he did, let me just say: thank you, Coach Allen.
For Greg McMahon, on the other hand, the writing was on the wall.
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After a series of special teams blunders, the Saints brought in Kevin O’Dea to serve as an assistant special teams coach. If I had to guess, I’d say O’Dea just walked into a full-time role as the lead ST coach.
The problem for McMahon is that the Special Teams blunders occurred in every phase of the unit. Every phase. At any point, it may have been the kicking game—whether kicker or protection—the punting game—either punt coverage or punt returns—and the kickoff return team. Week after week, the team couldn’t get it right. If McMahon hadn’t been fired at the end of such a mishap-filled season, I wouldn’t know what to think.
Bill Johnson comes as a bit of a surprise. But when you break it down, it’s clear why.
The Saints actually had some decent talent along the defensive line. Cam Jordan is one of the best, if not the best, DEs in the league. Sheldon Rankins is a solid player even as a rookie, and Nick Fairley played the best football of his life for this team.
And yet the Saints consistently struggled to generate pressure. The Saints finished the 2016 season with just 30 sacks, the 27th least in the league.
Now, they don’t have an elite line, by any means, even with Jordan. But they have a better line than 27th in the league. Particularly when you consider that Dennis Allen’s defense calls for a one-gap system, in which the defensive line is expected to attack and penetrate into the backfield. That simply did not happen under Johnson.
Obviously, it’s unclear who the Saints will bring in to replace these fired coaches.
But at this point in the offseason, I’m not sure there’s much more the Saints front office could have done to get the fanbase excited for next season and to restore faith in Sean Payton’s decision-making.
If the Saints can get a competent Special Teams and a defensive line that generates pressure, they’re going to win some games in 2017. And with Vitt gone, we may finally see the team develop a young linebacker. Finally. And I mean, finally.