Out of all the consequences the Saints had to face following Bountygate, it is generally agreed upon that the absence of Sean Payton for the entire season was the harshest and the primary reason why the Saints did not make the playoffs.
Of course, interim coach Joe Vitt had to serve a six-game suspension himself in which the Saints started off 0-4 in his absence. When Vitt finally took the helm, the Saints' record for the remainder of the season was 5-5. Not exactly living up to fans expectations under the Sean Payton era but still decent.
Despite breaking even under Vitt's leadership, the Saints still displayed many of the same inconsistencies that were present during their dismal 0-4 start. Regardless if it was during the interim coaching tenures of Vitt or Aaron Kromer, the general conclusion seems to be that the biggest reason for their poor performance was that Payton was not there to hold them accountable.
I don't know about you all, but Vitt seems to be more of a hard ass, old-school coach than Payton. If I was a Saints player, I would much rather get a tongue lashing from Payton than Vitt. The implication that the Saints players did not feel required to hold themselves accountable under Vitt, just seems contradictory to the no-nonsense image that Vitt projects.
Granted, Vitt does not have the creative play calling skills of Payton, but when it comes to instilling team discipline, it does not seem there would be a shortcoming under Vitt in that department. On the contrary, during this past week I saw pictures posted of Payton strumming a guitar on stage with Better than Ezra during a New Year's Eve concert. It reminded me of pictures I saw earlier in the fall of Payton joining Jimmy Buffett on stage and playing the drums. For whatever reason, becoming a Parrothead and jamming to "Margaritaville" seems like it would hurt your intimidation credibility while pushing players during the rigors of training camp and into the season.
Yet, you can't argue with the excellent results the Saints have had under Payton in what has been the most successful run in the franchise's history. So, just why is Joe Vitt considered an inferior coach to Sean Payton? Is he truly "softer" than Payton, or just lack his organizational, management and creative skills?
Had Vitt gone through a full season as interim coach, would the Saints be in the playoff today? If Payton would have never been suspended, thus enabling Vitt to fully devote himself to the linebacking corps, would the Saints defense have been as awful?
The 2012 nightmare season has now ended and we will never know the answers to these "what if" questions. All we can do now is speculate. So, speculate below.