The New Orleans Saints will be reporting to a coaching staff that will feature some familiar faces in unfamiliar places in 2012. Sean Payton and Joe Vitt, cornerstones of the organization, will not be there to set the tone. Drew Brees, who led the 2011 offseason as player/coach, is as of this moment still without a new contract. Meanwhile Steve Spagnuolo, although only months removed from an NFL head coaching position, may have his hands too full to take on head coach.
Conventional wisdom says the head coaching position will fall to fourth year offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr. His familiarity with Drew Brees and this high powered offense puts him in prime position to assume the reigns. As most know, it is the Saints offense that generates wins and revenue in New Orleans. Carmichael is the logical choice for the Saints, and taking the position in the interim is the logical choice for Carmichael.
As head coach of the Saints, Carmichael has a very small sample size to judge. He has perhaps the most puzzling two game head coaching resume to analyze. His head coaching record in 2011 was 1-1 following Sean Payton's MCL tear in Week 6. Carmichael oversaw the Saints most lopsided victory and most inexplicable loss in the span of two weeks as head coach. The Saints 62-7 shaming of the Colts had some saying let Payton take the rest of the year off. One week later, the Saints shamed themselves against the winless Rams 31-21. Those same people were then willing to donate their healthy legs to Payton to get him back on the sideline.
Crushing a winless team at home and being stunned by a winless team on the road make for a perplexing head coaching preview for Carmichael. Remember, Payton was in the booth for those two games, a luxury Carmichael will not be afforded in 2012. Also, more goes into being an NFL head coach than stalking the sidelines on Sundays and patting Drew on the shoulder after another Saints touchdown.
Does Carmichael have the personality to prepare the entire team during the week leading up to gameday? Can he put out organizational fires that occur during the course of an NFL season? Can he handle the media on a week-to-week, day-to-day basis? Especially considering these tumultuous times and the uncertainty enveloping the organization? All of this remains to be seen.
The positive side is that he is familiar with the organization and the players. If he is wise, he will leave the defense to Spagnuolo and do what he does best. He will have Joe Vitt to help relieve some pressure and add more experience upon his Week 7 return. If Carmichael can keep the offense rolling, the Saints should be in every game this season.
In the end, this season will be about facing the great unknown. Dealing with an NCAA "Death Penalty" type punishment is unprecedented for an NFL franchise. The ramifications will be felt in both the long and short term. To lose Sean Payton for the year will hinder this franchise no matter who assumes his mantle for the upcoming season. In a year of uncertainty, one thing is for certain, this will clearly be the most intriguing season in New Orleans Saints history.