Saints HC Dennis Allen set up for optimal success
The NFL world and the New Orleans sports community were caught off guard in January when Saints head coach Sean Payton surprisingly retired after 16 seasons with the franchise. Payton has brought unprecedented success to the Saints and has arguably done his best job coaching an injury-ravaged side in 2021.
The legendary coach’s replacement is Dennis Allen, 49, who was Payton’s defensive assistant for 12 years.
This is Allen’s second chance as a head coach. His first was with the Oakland Raiders, where he held an 8-28 record from 2012 to 2014 and was fired four games in 2014. He also took on head coaching responsibilities from Payton, who was out with Covid, in week 15 last season. The result was an emotional 9-0 road victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Unlike other coaches replacing an icon, Allen’s franchise has put him in a prime position to succeed. Sean Payton hasn’t really left the closet empty for his trusty assistant.
Also on the team are the perennial Pro Bowlers of DE Cam Jordan, CB Marshon Lattimore, LB Demario Davis, RB Alvin Kamara, OT Ryan Ramczyk and WR Michael Thomas. Other budding stars remaining are C Erik McCoy, WR/KR Deonte Harty, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, CB Paulson Adebo, LB Pete Werner, DE Marcus Davenport and DT David Onyemata.
The Saints also had a productive offseason. They’ve signed veteran talent like safeties Marcus Maye, Tyrann Mathieu and WR Jarvis Landry, all among the top free agents available to their positions. New Orleans also added two first-round picks in WR Chris Olave and OT Trevor Penning, both expected to make an immediate impact.
Also, unlike other coaches who replace a potential Hall of Famer like Payton, Allen isn’t taking over an aging team in decline. Davis (33), Jordan (32) and Mathieu (30) are the only projected starters over 30.
Ramczyk (28), Thomas (29), Lattimore (26) and Kamara (26) recently signed long-term contract extensions to keep them in place with the franchise. Promising players like Adebo, Werner and DE Payton Turner are only in their second year.
The Saints have crucial contract decisions to make on some key players between now and the end of this season. Gardner-Johnson, McCoy, Harty and Onyemata are heading into the final year of their respective deals. However, New Orleans may be the best in the NFL at juggling the salary cap and keeping their talented core intact.
Scroll to continue
Critics will point to Dennis Allen’s poor record and poor results with the Raiders. Allen was only 40 when he took the job at Oakland, his first head coaching job at any level. Bill Belichick, Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll also fared poorly in their early stints as head coaches, but went on to have outstanding careers.
Remember, Oakland has been one of the most dysfunctional and unstable franchises in all of sports over the past two decades. He will have no such worries in New Orleans.
Although once that wasn’t the case, the Saints are now one of the most stable franchises in the NFL. Allen has both patience and support from the owners and the front office of the team. The locker room leadership of players like Jordan, Davis and RB Mark Ingram is one of the strongest in the league.
Allen will also benefit from better stability at quarterback than he did in Oakland. In his 36 games with the Raiders, seven different players have started behind center. With New Orleans, 28-year-old Jameis Winston is entering his second year as a starter. Winston has his own questions to answer, but showed great promise in seven games before suffering a knee injury last season.
The top overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, Winston is a former 5,000-yard passer who has shown he can be a productive performer. He’ll be surrounded by as much offensive firepower as any NFL quarterback, as well as a top-notch offensive line.
Allen’s strength is on the defensive end. He said he would continue to call defensive signals, with input from co-coordinators Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard. Nielsen and Richard are two of the most popular assistants in the league. New Orleans has an elite defense capable of shutting down the NFL’s most prolific offenses.
Offensive play will be handled by Pete Carmichael, another longtime Payton assistant. It’s a unit that was ravaged by injuries and inefficiency last season. Expect a big rebound with the return of Thomas, Winston, Ramczyk, G Andrus Peat and the addition of receivers Olave and Landry.
Allen will be under the microscope as a decision-maker on game day. Payton was considered one of the best game day coaches in the league. Most of the coaching staff are staying, which means continuity in game planning should still be strong.
The benchmark for coaches who succeeded in replacing an icon was set in 1989. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator George Seifert replaced retired Bill Walsh that season, leading the team to a record of 14-2 and a second consecutive Super Bowl title.
The New Orleans Saints have possessed a legitimate championship contender for four of the last five seasons and again have one of the most talented rosters in the league this year. Dennis Allen certainly has huge shoes to fill, but he has the roster, the front office and the experience to match, if not surpass, the success of his predecessor.