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Sean Payton Needs To Make Tough Changes To His Coaching Staff

Payton insists he'll remain in New Orleans as long as the team will have him. This also means some of his more maligned lieutenants will remain with Payton as well.

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For the New Orleans Saints, the hard part is over.  Sean Payton will return for the last two years on his contract, and possibly beyond, if you take him at his word.  With Payton, the Saints retain a head coach who is widely accepted as one of the very best in the league, which is great, of course.  What is not so great is the fact that with Payton's retention comes the extreme likelihood that some of his underperforming assistant coaches will also continue on in New Orleans.

All of the attention falls on the coordinators, like former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but where the Saints have consistently and frustratingly failed is with particular position coaches.  The three longtime position coaches that have been most maligned are Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers coach Joe Vitt, Defensive Line coach Bill Johnson, and Special Teams coach Greg McMahon.

Vitt has been with the Saints since Payton arrived in 2006.  He is tied at the hip with Payton and has even been referred to by Payton in his 2010 autobiography as his "consigliere".  Vitt stood firm and steadfast behind Payton during their respective suspensions in 2012, Vitt even filled in as head coach for the second half of that season.  He has been loyal and unwavering to Payton all these years, which would make him seem untouchable.

Here's the problem, though.  As a linebackers coach, Vitt has been terrible at developing talent, leading one of the consistently bad linebacking corps in the NFL on a yearly basis.  While it would be extremely unlikely to see Payton ship Vitt out of New Orleans, it would be welcome to see him retain Vitt solely as the Assistant Head Coach while bringing someone else in to coach the linebackers.

Bill Johnson has been the Saints' Defensive Line coach since the Super Bowl season of 2009.  It's been all downhill for the Saints D-line since then also.  I already said my piece about Johnson needing to be jettisoned at this time last season.  It's only gotten worse since then.  There just isn't any player development along the line, despite having raw talent there.  Let Akiem Hicks be examples A-Z of that.  Outside of expected standout Cam Jordan, the best player on the Saints D-line was 13 year veteran, and free agent, Kevin Williams.  Its unacceptable that a 35 year-old free agent is the best and only option you have at tackle, because you have failed to develop reliable talent for seven years.

Like Joe Vitt, Greg McMahon has been with the Saints since Payton's arrival a decade ago.  He goes back even further with Payton, both playing football at the same college, separated only by a few years.  Again, like Vitt, Payton may feel a special kinship with McMahon that keeps him off the chopping block despite his lack of success.

McMahon's special teams units have consistently lacked explosiveness, patience, and imagination during his tenure.  He has been lucky to have Thomas Morstead at punter, but outside of that, there is little luck at all.  The kicking position has been a comical revolving door over the course of his tenure, while the return game on punts and kickoffs has offered no shot of adrenaline to the team or offered any threat to the opponent.  It has become increasingly unacceptable.

Sean Payton has been a loyal to his coaches in New Orleans, despite his turnstile of defensive coordinators over the second half of his career with the Saints.  Payton found it difficult to fire his initial defensive coordinator, Gary Gibbs following the 2008 season, so it would stand to reason that Payton would find it nearly impossible to part with these three men, two of which have been with him from day one.

The problem though, is that they need to go, or in Vitt's case, be re-assigned.  They are hampering development of the future, and without a future of well-developed young standouts for the Saints, there may not be much of a future for the coaching staff anyway.  With Payton setting his focus on his future in New Orleans, now is the opportune time to let go the failings of the past.