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Views from the sideline: Saints coaching staff changes almost over

Well-known coaches like Joe Vitt and Bill Johnson have left the Saints this spring, while fan favorite Curtis Johnson and newcomer Mike Nolan have joined the staff. But which positions are these new coaches assigned to?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton (L) and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen (R) look on from the sideline during the second half of a game against the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like New Orleans Saints fans have been clamoring for changes on the defensive coaching staff for years, and probably for good reason. A carousel of underwhelming defensive coordinators including Gregg Williams, Steve Spagnuolo, Rob Ryan, and Dennis Allen has been spinning for years, but the position coaches remained mostly-constant.

That changed early this year when the Saints parted ways with linebackers coach Joe Vitt and linebackers assistant James Willis, defensive line coach Bill Johnson (who has since joined the Los Angeles Rams), special teams coordinator Greg McMahon and special teams assistant Stan Kwan. Wide receivers coach John Morton recently left to join the New York Jets staff as offensive coordinator.

The Saints took their time filling those vacancies, and as of writing have hired Mike Nolan to coach linebackers, reunited with longtime receivers coach Curtis Johnson, and added Bradford Banta for the open special teams coordinator job.

That’s a lot to take in, so I’ll break down the current staff structure under Saints head coach Sean Payton.

NFL: Preaseason-Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael (left) and head coach Sean Payton (right) in the second half of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Coaching Staff

  • Offensive Coordinator: Pete Carmichael. Carmichael occasionally handles play-calling duties, but for the most part his responsibilities extend to grinding film, game-planning and helping script opening drives for weekly opponents. Carmichael is one of the few remaining personnel to have been with New Orleans since 2006.
  • Quarterbacks: Joe Lombardi. Lombardi’s two-year stint with the Detroit Lions came to an ugly end and he has since returned to coaching up the Saints’ quarterbacks. Whether it’s Garrett Grayson or a new face in the quarterbacks room, Lombardi will be responsible for developing the successor to Drew Brees.
  • Running Backs: Joel Thomas. Thomas joined the Saints back in 2015 after working his way up through college programs as a running backs coach over 15 years. Thomas happened to be on the Purdue Boilermakers’ staff in 2000 when Brees lit the Big Ten on fire en route to the NCAA’s lead in total offense and a Rose Bowl appearance.
  • Tight Ends: Dan Campbell. Campbell briefly played for the Saints in 2009 before landing on injured reserve and retiring. He then pursued a coaching career with the Miami Dolphins and had some success in a tough situation as the interim head coach. Now Campbell holds the title of assistant head coach in New Orleans while working with the tight ends.
  • Wide Receivers: Curtis Johnson. When news broke that John Morton was leaving the Saints’ staff, most fans instinctively hoped for “Coach CJ” to return. It turned out that Johnson’s one-year contract with the Chicago Bears had expired and he was headed home to New Orleans. Former Saints receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem were at their most effective under Johnson’s tutelage. Imagine what he’ll do with young stars like Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, and Willie Snead.
  • Offensive Line: Dan Roushar. Roushar has coached a variety of positions throughout his 32-year career and recently focused on the offensive line for the Saints. He is responsible for developing young players like Andrus Peat and Landon Turner. Roushar was known for conducting a dynamic running game for the Michigan State Spartans during his two years as offensive coordinator.
  • Offensive Assistants: Ronald Curry and Brendan Nugent. Curry formerly worked on the San Francisco 49ers’ staff and now helps coach the Saints’ wide receivers. Nugent has been a member of Marc Trestman’s staff with the Chicago Bears and Montreal Alouettes as an offensive quality control coach.
NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen (right) celebrates with his team following a defensive stop against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Coaching Staff

  • Defensive Coordinator: Dennis Allen. Allen is a smart coach who likes to attack offenses from a variety of angles, using defensive line twists and stunts as well as defensive back blitzes to confuse opponents. Extensive injuries to the Saints’ entire depth chart at cornerback and defensive end made that strategy difficult to execute in 2016.
  • Defensive Backs: Aaron Glenn. Glenn played a large part in making something out of nothing with the Saints’ secondary. Undrafted rookies who should have been gameday inactives like Ken Crawley were thrust into starting roles and predictably struggled. However, the Saints were competitive and never really got blown out of any 2016 contests. The early returns on investing in Glenn are encouraging.
  • Senior Defensive Assistant: Peter Giunta. Giunta is one of the longest-tenured coaches on the Saints’ staff, having worked in the NFL for more than 25 years and spending another decade in the college ranks. Giunta was a fixture of Tom Coughlin’s New York Giants coaching staff and before that coached the Kansas City Chiefs and 1999 world championship St. Louis Rams (or were they still the Los Angeles Rams? It’s hard to keep track).
  • Pass Rush Specialists: Brian Young. Young has bounced around from one responsibility to the next on the Saints’ staff since joining them in 2009. He is well-regarded by players and played a big part in developing former undrafted free agent-turned-Saints sack leader-turned-beach brawler Junior Galette. Young is a candidate to promote to the vacant defensive line coach position.
  • Defensive Assistant: Marcus Ungaro. Ungaro originally interned with the Saints’ communications department in 2007 and briefly worked as a video assistant until 2010. Since then he has helped out “behind the scenes” in putting together files like playbooks and scouting reports, as well as managing game film and running drills in practice.
  • Linebackers: Mike Nolan. Nolan is a very experienced coach who has evaluated, drafted, and coached linebackers for decades. He has an impressive resume; the list of linebackers whose careers he touched include Karl Mecklenburg, Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis, Manny Lawson, Karlos Dansby, Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow, Koa Misi, and Denzel Perryman. He might be our best hope of salvaging Stephone Anthony’s career.
  • Defensive Line: Vacant. Two candidates who have interviewed for this position are Bo Davis and Brian VanGorder. Davis was a longtime defensive line coach at Alabama, helping recruit and develop NFL prospects like Jonathan Allen (projected top-three overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft), Jarran Reed (Seattle Seahawks), and A’Shawn Robinson (Detroit Lions). VanGorder has bounced around college and the pros, recently working with the Georgia Bulldogs, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, New York Jets, Auburn Tigers, and Atlanta Falcons.
NFL: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints special teams assistant Kevin O'Dea walks the sideline during a 2016 game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams Coaching Staff

  • Special Teams Coordinator: Bradford Banta. Banta has worked with Washington’s pro football team as an assistant special teams coach since 2014. Focusing on kickoff coverage, Banta’s squad averaged a full 4.6 yards more per kickoff return (21.1) last year than the Saints (16.5). That’s the difference between ranking 20th and ranking 31st. The difference in kickoff yards allowed is slimmer: Washington ranked 14th with 21.4 yards allowed per returned, while the Saints were 20th at 22.5 yards.
  • Special Teams Assistant: Kevin O’Dea. O’Dea is the only member of the previous Saints special teams coaching staff to remain for 2017, though he’s still in a consultant/assistant role after looking like a candidate for promotion. O’Dea helped harness rookie kicker Wil Lutz’s impressive kicking velocity and focus his accuracy - after O’Dea joined the staff in November, Lutz completed all 12 of his field goal attempts. Up to that point, Lutz had made just 16 of his 22 field goals (72.7-percent)