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New Orleans Saints: Candidates for vacant QB coach position

The New Orleans Saints have several vacancies to fill this offseason on the coaching staff. Here are the top internal candidates.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints have seen an unprecedented level of coaching staff turnover this offseason. In all, former tight ends coach Dan Campbell is now the head coach for the Detroit Lions, with secondary coach Aaron Glenn joining him as the team’s defensive coordinator, assistant GM/VP of pro personnel Terry Fontenot became the general manager for the Atlanta Falcons, and quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi is now the Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator.

The level of poaching initially drew concern; Saints fans are likely just used to an unusual level of continuity on the coaching staff. With six teams having GM vacancies, and seven teams hiring new head coaches this offseason, it frankly would have been more concerning to retain the entire staff — though they did make an impassioned move to recruit Ryan Nielsen back from LSU.

Nonetheless, New Orleans now has vacancies in the following roles: tight ends coach, quarterbacks coach, defensive coordinator, assistant GM/VP of pro personnel. For some of these staff roles, the Saints may look for outside hires; they’ve shown an inclination to promote internally when possible. Last week, we looked at the top candidates to replace Dan Campbell.

To see previous parts, click below:

New Orleans Saints: Candidates for vacant TE coach position

Let’s go through the top internal candidates for the Saints new quarterback coach.

Quarterbacks Coach: D.J. Williams — Saints Offensive Assistant

Coaching Profile: A former college quarterback and son of former NFL quarterback Doug Williams, D.J. Williams formally joined the Saints staff as an offensive assistant in 2019. Williams previously spent two seasons working as an intern for the Saints; he worked with receivers in the 2017 training camp, and accrued additional duties with coaching and football operations in 2018.

Prior to New Orleans, Williams was the starting quarterback for Grambling State from 2011-14. Williams previously served as an intern in the Washington Football Team personnel department for a year under his father, who is the current senior VP of Player Personnel. He also participated in the NFL/Black College Football Hall of Fame Quarterback Coaching Summit in 2019 in Atlanta.

When surveying Joe Lombardi’s decorated resume, it’s hard to replace him outright; looking at his starting point, he’s not entirely dissimilar from D.J. Williams. Prior to coaching in the NFL, Lombardi coached at the college level, and the XFL. He was hired by the Saints as an offensive assistant in 2007, and was promoted to quarterbacks coach by 2009 — the year New Orleans won the Super Bowl. Lombardi went on to serve as the quarterbacks coach from 2009-13, had a brief stint as the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions from 2014-15, and returned to the Saints as the quarterbacks coach from 2016-20.

Comparatively, Williams has no formal coaching experience, but has served as an offensive assistant for New Orleans for two seasons full-time, after two previous seasons in a part-time capacity — much like Lombardy in 2009. Moreover, unlike Lombardi, Williams himself is a former quarterback. He also has expressed strong interest in coaching — after his year-long stint as an intern in Washington under his father, he declined a full-time role in the personnel department in favor of pursuing his dream of becoming a coach.

His father credits Williams’ determination and the opportunities Sean Payton has awarded Williams; noting qualities of hard work and passion, Williams frankly fits the ideal archetype of a mentee under Payton. Per Rod Walker of The Advocate, Lombardi was highly complimentary of Williams and his inherited football genes.

“D.J.’s real smart and picks up on things,” noted Lombardi. “He’s smart, reliable and great to have around. A good personality to have in the room.”

The departure of Lombardi comes at a critical impasse where the Saints are tasked with cultivating the heir apparent to Drew Brees. Although the starting quarterback for 2021 is very much up in the air, all signs frankly point to a training camp battle between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, with Winston leading the pack as the poised starter. The two quarterbacks have their own fundamental issues, respectively, to work through in order to secure that role; the quarterbacks coach becomes that much more crucial to both Winston and Hill’s development.

When Winston gave his press conference last offseason upon joining the Saints, it was clear he had done his homework; he specifically named coaches Lombardi, Pete Carmichael, and D.J. Williams when relishing the opportunity to learn in New Orleans.

“The primary opportunity is getting a chance to work with Drew Brees, Sean Payton, Taysom Hill and [Tommy] Stevens,” Winston said. “And Coach Lombardi, and Coach Carmichael, and Coach D.J. Williams. That is my opportunity. That’s the biggest, most important opportunity that I have right now.”

In the past two seasons, Williams has been a part of a room that dealt with the midseason loss of the starting quarterback. That quarterback room saw last season’s backup, Teddy Bridgewater, go on to be the starter for the Carolina Panthers. He’s also been privy to the development of Taysom Hill behind closed doors; add in the behind-the-scenes work with Winston over the last year, and no candidate externally has the knowledge Williams holds about the current Saints quarterbacks.

Should the successor to Brees come from inside the building, Williams fits the bill both in the “next man up” mentality, and unparalleled knowledge of the quarterback room. Should he assume the vacant role, Williams becomes a cornerstone in traversing the Saints through the post-Brees era.

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