In a season of unprecedented circumstances for the New Orleans Saints I seek to offer some precedence. Love him or hate him, Sean Payton is without question the greatest head coach in New Orleans Saints franchise history. He has given the Saints faithful what seemed to be the impossible in his six seasons as head coach: four winning seasons, three division titles, five playoff wins, and a Super Bowl title.
Coach Payton is member of a very elite group of men: Super Bowl winning head coaches. 46 Super Bowls have been played since 1967 and only 28 head coaches have won the title, Sean Payton is one of them. Only five of these elite head coaches are still active and still with the franchise where they won the title, or titles. In just six years, he truly has achieved icon status in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the Saints must replace coach Payton; thankfully it is only for one season.
Many franchises have faced the daunting task of replacing their iconic coaches with varying degrees of success. For successes see: the Pittsburgh Steelers (twice). For failures see: the Washington Redskins (for 20 years now).
Which category will the Saints fall into for the 2012 season? Well, let's see what the past of other franchises tells us about the Saints future.
Here I present situations where teams replaced their Super Bowl winning coaches with in-house assistant coaches who were "lieutenants" to the departed coaches. I also present situations where tenured members of the coaching staff and the starting quarterback remained after the head coach was replaced. We will look only at the first season following the departure of these iconic coaches, starting from the early Nineties on. Let's hop in the DeLorean and get this baby up to 88 miles per hour.
George Seifert - San Francisco 49ers
In 1989 Seifert replaced the icon of iconic head coaches, Bill Walsh
He was a lieutenant under Walsh and saw the most success in his first season of any coach on this list
Starting QB: Joe Montana
First year record: 14-2, Won Super Bowl XXIV (2nd of back to back titles) vs Denver
Richie Petitbon - Washington Redskins
In 1993 Petitbon replaced Joe Gibbs (in his first stint as 'Skins coach)
He was a lieutenant under Gibbs and saw little success in his first season as head coach
Starting QB: Mark Rypien
First year record: 4-12, last in NFC East
Barry Switzer - Dallas Cowboys
In 1994 Switzer replaced Jimmy Johnson
Although Switzer had no ties to Johnson or his regime, the defensive coaching staff and most of the primary players remained in tact
Starting QB: Troy Aikman
First year record: 12-4, lost NFC Championship @ San Francisco
Steve Mariucci - San Francisco 49ers
In 1997 Mariucci replaced the first coach on this list, the under-appreciated George Seifert
Although Mariucci had no ties to Seifert, the primary players on the roster had changed very little between the two coaches
Starting QB: Steve Young
First year record: 13-3, lost NFC Championship vs Green Bay
Ray Rhodes - Green Bay Packers
In 1999 Rhodes replaced Mike Holmgren
Rhodes was not exactly one of Holmgren's lieutenants, but he coached alongside Holmgren when the two were assistants in San Francisco and he was an assistant in Holmgren's first season in Green Bay
Starting QB: Brett Favre
First year record: 8-8, 4th in NFC Central, no playoff appearance
Mike Martz - St. Louis Rams
In 2000 Martz replaced Dick Vermiel
He was a lieutenant under Vermiel and took the helm of the defending Super Bowl Champions
Starting QB: Kurt Warner
First year record: 10-6, lost Wild Card @ New Orleans (Who Dat!)
Bill Callahan - Oakland Raiders
In 2002 Callahan replaced Jon Gruden
He was a lieutenant under Gruden and ran virtually the exact same offense that Gruden created
This one is a special circumstance due to the bizarre nature of the situation. Although Gruden didn't win the Super Bowl with Oakland, he won it against them the same season the was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for draft picks and cash.
Starting QB: Rich Gannon
First year record: 11-5, lost Super Bowl XXXVII vs Tampa Bay
Mike Tomlin - Pittsburgh Steelers
In 2007 Tomlin replaced Bill Cowher (who replaced another SB winner, Chuck Noll)
Although Tomlin had no ties to Cowher, he kept both offensive and defensive coordinators who were Cowher lieutenants
Starting QB: Ben Roethlisberger
First year record: 10-6, lost Wild Card vs Jacksonville
Jim Caldwell - Indianapolis Colts
In 2009 Caldwell replaced Tony Dungy
He was a lieutenant under Dungy and was undefeated in his first 14 regular season games as head coach
Starting QB: Peyton Manning
First year record: 14-2, lost Super Bowl XLIV vs New Orleans (WHO DAT!!!)
Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt - New Orleans Saints
In 2012 Kromer Replaces Sean Payton to be followed by Vitt mid-season
Both men are Payton lieutenants
Starting QB: Drew Brees
Interim year record: To be determined
Success seems to be in the Saints future if you look at the raw data here. Only 2 of the 9 coaches listed failed to reach the playoffs or win at least 10 games in their first season following iconic coaches. Stability in assistant coaches and at the quarterback position have been the key to continued success in these examples, and the Saints have these in spades.
Every coach on this list had the benefit of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, with the exception of Mark Rypien (who was a Super Bowl MVP) and Rich Gannon (who was an NFL MVP). Canton awaits Drew Brees the moment he retires from the game. These coaches inherited established winning environments and so will Kromer and Vitt.
Gentlemen, the keys are yours. Don't wreck Payton's finely tuned automobile.