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New Orleans Saints in-house head coaching candidates

While the Saints will reportedly include outside candidates in their search, they won’t have to go far for their possible next head coach.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

As Sean Payton steps away as the New Orleans Saints head coach, all eyes will turn to the organization as they undergo their first head coaching search since the 2006 season in which they landed Payton. The focus fro the Saints will need to be on ushering their new era with the same winning culture that’s been developed over the last 16 years.

While the Saints will look at both inside and outside candidates, an in-house promotion may be the best way to keep as much continuity as possible. Here are some members of the present coaching staff that should be up for consideration as the team’s next head coach.

Dennis Allen - Defensive Coordinator

Dennis Allen is widely considered the favorite amongst all coaching candidates for the head coaching gig. And deservedly so.

Allen will be most recently recognized for stepping in as the acting head coach when Sean Payton had to miss the Week 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa. In doing so, he led the Saints to a 9-0 shutout over Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champions.

But his impact goes back much further.

Allen was the Saints assistant defensive line coach back in 2006 when Payton took over as head coach. He then worked his way to secondary coach before departing for defensive coordinator and head coaching jobs for the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders respectively. He then returned to New Orleans soon taking on defensive coordinator responsibilities in 2015.

Allen inherited a defense that ranked near or at the bottom of the league in total points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards allowed. He then, over the course of just over six seasons, rebuilt that unit into one that ranked top five or at worst top ten in those same metric over recent years.

Many will cite his 8-28 record as a head coach with the then Oakland Raiders. But with years to grow, change, evolve, and learn in concert with one of the greatest coaches of our time, Allen deserves a chance at the job.

He’ll have a lot of support in the building. Not just from the coaching staff, but from the players and front office as well. Allen may not be the splash hire on paper of an Eric Bienemy, Brian Flores, or Brian Daboll, but that may be exactly what the Saints are looking for. Bringing back Allen guarantees familiarity with the organization and culture that has risen this franchise to unimaginable heights with Sean Payton. It also helps to keep some of the other extremely important members of the staff on board, who could also receive some consideration for the job.

Allen was also under consideration for the Chicago Bears head coaching role, but his interview was reportedly canceled as the Bears focused on finalizing their new GM’s deal. Whether or not that interview will be rescheduled, or needs to be rescheduled, remains to be seen. He did receive a lofty vote of confidence in Sean Payton’s farewell press conference.

Promoting Allen to head coach means the team could also promote from within to fill his role at defensive coordinator, maintaining key personnel. One such candidate would be Ryan Nielsen, though his highly-respected reputation won’t stop his consideration at DC.

Ryan Nielsen - Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach

After serving the last year as Sean Payton’s assistant head coach, Nielsen seems likely to garner attention for the open head coaching position as well. Nielsen has been with the Saints since 2017, when he joined as the defensive line coach rising from the college ranks at a similar position with NC State.

While sack production is not the sole metric by which to gauge the success of a defensive line, there is a noticeable shift at the level of efficiency the Saints pass rush took on after adding Nielsen.

In 2016, the Saints ranked 27th in sacks during the regular season with 30. Since that year and the addition of Ryan Nielsen, New Orleans has never had a sub-40 sack season. Yes, that includes the 17-game 2021 season, but they did hit that mark before the final matchup.

Since 2017, the Saints defense has also ranked near the top of the league in run defense as well.

Nielsen, along with Dennis Allen, was a huge part in revitalizing the Saints into what would eventually become a defensive team.

He is highly-regarded within the locker room, throughout the organization, and beyond. He was nearly poached last year to take on the defensive coordinator role in Baton Rouge. The Saints took exception to the idea of losing him, and reportedly the way LSU went about it, that they elevated his role in New Orleans to keep him there. You don’t do that for someone you don’t truly believe in.

Many will knock his lack of previous head coaching experience. But that didn’t stop the team from bringing in Sean Payton back in ‘06.

Kris Richard - Defensive Backs Coach

Kris Richard is a relative newcomer to the team, but his impact was immediate. After the departure of Aaron Glenn who went along with Dan Campbell to the Detroit Lions as their defensive coordinator, there was a lot of concern in New Orleans around how the Saints’ defensive back unit would be impacted. Thanks to Richard, they didn’t miss a beat.

Richard helped the Saints secondary maintain their turnover production with 18 interceptions which matched the 2020 season in count. He also helped the defense turn from one that held opposing offenses to the fifth fewest passing yards and 16th in passing touchdowns to a unit that allowed eight fewer touchdowns, good for third in the league.

Players noted Richard’s intensity as an element to his style that they respected greatly. An intensity that clearly impacted the play of the secondary which piled on 57 total passes defended in addition to their 18 interceptions.

Star cornerback Marshon Lattimore totaled 19 forced incompletions, which ranked number one across qualifying corners per Pro Football Focus. He also held opposing quarterbacks to a mere 54.7% completion percentage when he was in primary coverage. He was accompanied by fantastic secondary play with safeties Malcolm Jenkins, Marcus Williams, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

However, perhaps one of the most impressive achievements of Richard’s first year in New Orleans is the speedy development of rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo. Adebo had not played full-speed, high-level football competition in nearly two years between his final game at Stanford in 2019 and his opening NFL action against the reigning MVP in Aaron Rodger Week 1 of the 2021 season.

Adebo would go on to force a sub-100 passer rating, a 65% completion percentage, and four interceptions when targeted as a rookie. All while being one of the few players to start every one of the Saints 17 games.

Richard’s ability as a respected developer, most noted for his role in coaching up Seattles ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary, has already begun to bring him attention around the NFL. He has already been asked to interview for defensive coordinator positions with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. But could New Orleans have higher ambitions for him?

Pete Carmichael - Offensive Coordinator

Carmichael joined the New Orleans Saints as their quarterbacks coach when Sean Payton was hired as the head coach in 2006. Since then, he’s been Payton’s right-hand man in scheming, building, installing, and evolving some of the most prolific offenses in the league’s history.

Promoted to offensive coordinator in 2009, the Saints Super Bowl season, Carmichael helped to fuel some of the greatest offensive production we’ve seen in NFL season. Not the least of which being 2011’s record-breaking offense which piled on 7,474 total yards.

At the helm of game planning and installing, Carmichael played an enormously underrated role in the success of the New Orleans Saints offensive attack in its many variations. While Sean Payton handled the playcalling, Carmichael has gotten his run at the gig a couple times.

While 2021’s game at Tampa may not be the most impressive offensive showcase, consider the available personnel and injuries. Looking back that aforementioned 2011 season, Carmichael called the plays for the majority of that season’s latter stretch. Including a near flawless premier at playcaller with the 62-7 shellacking of the Indianapolis Colts. He would go on that season to add several 40+ games to his resume.

Carmichael offers a similar benefit of consistency for the New Orleans Saints should he be tapped for the job as well. He knows Sean Payton’s scheme just as well as Payton and Drew Brees do and has spent more than a decade teaching players how to run it in various iterations.

Perhaps the Saints want to continue with an offensive identity at the helm, but want to maintain continuity amongst the staff. Carmichael could be an intriguing way to go about both. Especially if Dennis Allen also sticks around as defensive coordinator in this scenario with the Chicago Bears zeroing in on other candidates.

Which of the Saints in-house candidates would you prefer? Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints and checkout the Locked On Saints YouTube channel.