Before they all arrived in New Orleans, they were a hodgepodge of players and coaches nobody wanted or valued appropriately.
Among the highlights of my trip to New Orleans in November was meeting up with my friends Kailin and Rachel, proud card carrying members of the Who Dat Nation.
Prior to meeting up with Rachel at the legendary Handsome Willy's on South Robertson Street, Kailin and I had a discussion about New Orleans and its people as we walked westbound on Tulane Avenue, a main thoroughfare located in the city's downtown medical district. .
"Here in this city," she said to me as we passed by Tulane University Hospital, "you can be yourself and few people will give a damn."
Popular meme that appeared on social media throughout the 2013 season via fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net
In October, Grantland's Bill Barnwell wrote a piece about the Saints titled "The Team of Misfit Toys." The piece, published a couple of days before the Saints-Bears game, lauded the team for cobbling together a team of castoffs into one of the NFL's best teams.
"More than any other team in football," Barnwell wrote, "the Saints have found ways to extract value out of players who don't quite fit traditional boxes or perceptions of what a football player is."
That same line of thinking in regards to how the Saints build their roster also applies to the coaching staff is built, something that was evident in 2013 when a long haired football wanderer came into the Big Easy.
Miss Mae's the Club on Magazine and Napoleon in Uptown via www.gonola.com
In one of his final acts prior to serving his year-long suspension in 2012, Sean Payton decided on hiring Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. Spagnuolo, who had served for three seasons as the head coach for the St. Louis Rams, where he would hold the mark for the lowest winning percentage of any non-interim coach in the history of the franchise, was brought in to replace Gregg Williams.
Unlike what Spagnuolo did in New York, where his aggressive defensive strategy played a big part in the New York Giants' victory over the New England Patriots, his defense in New Orleans for the most part lacked that same aggressiveness that was seen on that 2007 Giants squad, something that for all intents and purposes frustrated the entire defensive unit as a whole as the 2012 Saints gave up the most yards in league history.
Recalled one Saints player in an interview with Larry Holder of the Times Picaynue early last year, "It was tough putting on a brave face after every game for you guys."
Aside from the struggles the defense had on the field, the unknown player interviewed by Holder went on to criticize Spagunolo as a person and coach.
"He's a good guy," they said, "but he has zero patience and no personality. It was a far departure from what we had with Gregg. There was no type of input from players on how to fix the defense whatsoever and it showed on the field."
On January 24, a little over three weeks after the story on Spagunolo was published in the Times-Picaynue, Spagunolo would be canned as Saints defensive coordinator.
676 miles upriver and ironically on the same day, the St. Louis Rams tapped Rob Ryan, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, as their new defensive coordinator.
In an interview with the Times-Picaynue, Ryan recalled his brief stay in St. Louis and his desire to coach in the Big Easy
"The scheme [Jeff] Fisher wanted to employ in St. Louis," he recalled, "was more of a 4-3. To sum it up, the vibe there in St. Louis wasn't right. Plus I was already upset at the Dallas situation (he was fired while on vacation in Turks and Caicos) and wanted to wait for the perfect opportunity."
Former Saints offensive line coach Aaron Cromer via www.neworleanssaints.com
Prior to Aaron Cromer's hiring by the Chicago Bears on January 16th, Ryan placed a call to him in regard to a spot with the Saints.
"I said, 'Hey man, I don't know what's going to happen there, but can you talk to Sean (Payton)?' Well he couldn't," Ryan told Larry Holder. "Nobody could. So I was like damn because that would be the perfect spot for me."
A week after Sean Payton was reinstated by the NFL and five days after taking the job, Ryan resigned as the Rams defensive coordinator, famously celebrating his resignation at a McDonald's directly across the street from the team headquarters.
"He just dropped his keys on Fisher's desk and walked out," wrote Mike Silver of NFL.com.
Six days after Super Bowl XLVII and after what was maybe the shortest interview in the history of the Saints franchise, Sean Payton tapped Rob Ryan as the new Saints defensive coordinator.
Rob Ryan at Miss Mae's via gamedayr.com
"New Orleans loves characters," said Raymond Dearie, an employee at Miss Mae’s, a popular watering hole at the corner of Magazine and Napoleon in Uptown New Orleans.
Named for Florence "Ms. Mae" Bingham, who died in 2012, the bar is known for its cheap drink specials (hint: you can drink a ton for 40 bucks if you’re there).
"When the economic downturn happened, the new owner changed the prices from $3 for doubles and $2 for singles to $2 for doubles and $1 for singles."
As we continued in our conversation, Dearie spoke fondly of Ms. Bingham.
"Miss Mae was like the bar mother," he recalled. "Over the years there’s been little trouble here. She wouldn’t allow it."
"I love New Orleans; it’s an awesome city, I think this town appreciates normal, hardworking people, so maybe I am a good guy."
-Rob Ryan to the New York Times, November 3. 2013
Due to the fact that Ryan lives in the nearby Garden District (I probably passed him on St. Charles), according to Dearie, Miss Mae’s fits Ryan’s style.
"If he wasn’t Rob Ryan, people at Miss Mae’s would still love him he's one of them. There's nothing fake about him at all."
Those same thoughts were echoed by current manager Jason Matherene in a story for the New York Times on Ryan.
"He just blends in with the folks here."
When ESPN caught wind of Ryan’s appearances at Miss Mae’s in September, Dearie was quick to shoot down what he felt was shoddy reporting.
"They [ESPN] did its best to make it seem like he was sloshed every time he came here," he said.
According to Dearie, whenever Ryan comes into Miss Mae’s, he orders two beers and a bag of Zapp’s potato chips (think neighborhood corner store with a bar).
"He then drops a $100 bill and buys a round for everyone."
When asked about whether or not Ryan should cut his hair to get a head coaching gig, Dearie vehemently opposed it.
"Why get your hair cut because of what a person thinks? Haircuts only tell us about the outside, not what’s on the inside of a person."