Gregg Williams knew. Sean Payton knew. Mickey Loomis knew. Tom Benson knew. Roger Goodell and the NFL knew. At least one key figure in the Saints organization had to have been clueless about the hornets nest he was walking into.
That man is the Saints new defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo. When Spagnuolo was hired by the Saints in late January, his objectives were clear: provide the optimal defense to complement the NFL's best offense and do not self-destruct against inferior opponents in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, things just became more complicated than Spags, or Saints fans could have expected.
The Saints defense truly captured lightning in a bottle under Gregg Williams in 2009. Led by Darren Sharper, all of the pieces fell into place and the Saints created turnovers at an alarming rate. One season later, the defense began to show that their championship level play may be in the rearview mirror. Yet, Williams became more defiant and arrogant. He introduced us to the ever so classy "crotch chop" and his attitude was manifesting itself through his defensive leaders.
In year three the late hits, fines, and allegations of dirty play became far too common an occurrence, but the offense was rewriting the record books and the team was a premier Super Bowl contender. Winning was curing the symptoms of the Saints illness. Then, on Jan 14, the last four minutes at San Francisco happened and the symptoms could no longer be ignored.
Some may believe Spagnuolo just needs to keep the defense from blitzing haphazardly into the teeth of the opponent's unfazed offensive line. In reality, he will have to re-program the defense at a fundamental level. They could be seen trying to get picks and cause strips on every down for the last three season but have not been successful for the last two. Trying to get interceptions which they couldn't catch and getting "kill shots" instead of wrapping players up with solid tackles were taking a toll on the team. Quite frankly, the league figured Williams' scheme out after '09 and it was never adjusted accordingly.
Spags already had more to deal with than many give him credit for and now he has to deal with the burden of the bounty fund situation. He is clearly coming into this clean, but he will inevitably be asked questions about a situation he had no involvement in because it was carried out by his unit and his predecessor.
Did the Saints have any obligation to inform Spagnuolo about the pending investigation upon his arrival to New Orleans? Remember, he was a highly sought after coordinator once he was let go in St. Louis. He chose the Saints over Philadelphia and other familiar situations. Presumably, he came to New Orleans to win a championship and work for one of the NFL's class organizations.
Would he have any right to want out of his contract considering the circumstances surrounding the organization? If the Saints knew the investigation was re-opened well before the hiring and withheld any information then maybe a case could be made, but it would be highly unlikely. We all deal with unfortunate circumstances at our workplaces and I'm sure many other people would be willing to take our place if we were unhappy.
Steve Spagnuolo appears to be a stand-up guy with strong character that will lead this Saints defense in the right direction. He will undoubtedly be saddled with player suspensions, little to no draft picks, and working under the national microscope. Even with all of this, I can't think of another coach I would rather have in this situation. I believe in Steve Spagnuolo, and I feel bad for him. He will help clean up the mess from a party to which he was invited late. It takes a tough person to roll up their sleeves and get to work on this. Go get 'em Spags, Who Dat Nation is rooting for you.