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Friday, December 18, 2015

For the Saints, the grass probably isn't greener beyond Sean Payton after all

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 12:56 PM

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Keep the Jimmy Buffett fan after all.

Football Outsiders, the pioneering advanced football statistics site that uses a mixture of math and arcane witchcraft to produce numbers no one understands, ranked the best and worst defenses since 1989. You shouldn't be surprised that the Saints are the worst one.

We already knew this, of course. What'll be interesting to see is whether the Saints improve on these numbers over the next few weeks. If linebacker Dannell Ellerbe stays healthy, maybe they will.

Improvement would give us reason to hope that maybe, despite what I've written in this space over the past couple months, Sean Payton can turn the franchise back around. More and more that seems like the best path, however he may work it out.

The problem with change in the current NFL is that almost every potential coach is a terribly depressing retread.

Before the 2015 season began, Sports Illustrated's MMQB published "The Next 32," a list of the men most likely to win the next round of NFL jobs. To call it uninspiring would be an understatement. 

It includes names like Jim Mora, Jr, Josh McDaniels, Rob Chudzinski, Hue Jackson, Tom Cable, Eric Mangini, and others — in other words, men who have already failed, some more than once, at being NFL head coaches. 

Other names on the list include former Saints assistant and former Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who has since been fired by Detroit. A further name is Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, whose offense seems primarily responsible for one of the 2015 season's silver linings, Atlanta's fall from undefeated contender to disaster on a six game losing streak.

Speaking of the Falcons, their former coach, Mike Smith, is on the MMQB list. So is failed Lions coach Jim Scwartz. And if you wander over to the "honorable mention" section, you'll see even more familiar names, like multi-team failure Norv Turner and — wait for it — former Saints head coach Jim Haslett.

The point is it's slim pickings out there. Most NFL coaches fail, and the primary reason they fail is the job is really hard. But the other reason most NFL coaching hires fail is teams keep hiring the same boring candidates, repeating various forms of insanity.

Even worse than the fact these names are always the same is the fact none of these men does anything particularly interesting with the sport. They may all have a slightly different twist on how to run an NFL offense or NFL defense, and some may be more conservative on gameday than others, but they all occupy part of an extremely narrow ideological spectrum. There are no new ideas among them. It's the same old stale story.

The lack of innovation or even of basic differentiation between teams makes the NFL a less interesting product than it otherwise might be. It also, in addition to the huge issues of poor leadership and terrible officiating (and I'll end the list there or I could go on forever), deadens the pure entertainment value. To be honest, I no longer feel any inclination to watch NFL games beyond those involving the Saints. They're about as different from one another as the Frasier reruns I run on Netflix as I fall asleep.

It's a bigger version of the problem gripping the Southeastern Conference in college football right now. The SEC, USA Today's Dan Wolken argues, has been damaged by the good ol' boy network of pals who hire and re-hire coaches almost exclusively from within the same narrow pool of candidates. Says Wolken:
Going deeper into the playoff era, you wonder if this is going to be longer than a two-year trend. When the SEC East trades Gary Pinkel for defensive coordinator Barry Odom and Georgia jettisons Mark Richt for Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, it's hard to call it a conference of innovation. When South Carolina even considers recycling Muschamp — and as of Saturday night he was still the favorite to become the coach there — it smacks of a league madly in love with itself.
In such an environment, even a frustrating, more conventional version of the old Sean Payton starts to seem like the best possible option. Because, sure, the Saints could trade Payton. I've even articulated scenarios in which it would make sense for them to do so.

But nothing would kill the excitement of such a move faster than hearing Mickey Loomis introduce someone like good old Smitty as the Saints' new coach.

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