At long last the Bounty Gate rulings were handed down providing some closure for the Saints players, front office, and the organization as a whole. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue cleared the four indicted players from any wrong-doing, however, the one person who could possibly help the Saints resuscitate what's left of the season remains suspended at least until after the end of the regular season and possibly longer.
Sean Payton's absence has reverberated through the team like aftershocks following a massive earthquake. It's obvious when watching the team play that there is a leadership void. In Payton's absence, Drew Brees has tried shouldering the burden of filling that void left by Payton's forced vacancy. Brees, despite his best efforts, needs Payton to help orchestrate the Saints offense. Whether through Pete Carmichael's play-calling or Brees' extreme confidence, the Saints have not looked like the well-oiled machine that they normally do when Payton is on the sidelines. Never has that been more evident that the past three games, Brees' worst as a Saint. In those three games alone, he has only flashed the brilliance of his time under Payton and looked more like Rex Grossman. 4 touchdown to 9 interceptions, a completion rating of 59.9%, and a quarterback rating of 66.2.
Those stats alone make it obvious that Payton is sorely missed. Payton's ability to corral the team, get them to concentrate on the task at hand, his ability as a play-caller, team manager, mentor, and the special relationship he has with Brees have been sorely missed this season. Now, the question lingers on whether he will or won't be back with the Saints next season.
If Sean Payton's suspension lasts until the end of the regular season then that's bad for the Saints as that allows teams that miss the playoffs to pursue him. On the flip side, if his suspension lasts until after the Super Bowl then that gives Mickey Loomis and Tom Benson ample time to work out a new contract. There are numerous reasons as to why Payton will want to return: his relationship with the GM, Loomis, team owner Tom Benson's adoration for him, his uncanny connection to Brees, the fact that the city and fans adore him, and to return to an organization he has practically built from the ground up.
Those are just a few as to why Payton would want to return to the Saints. But what if the unthinkable happens? What if Sean Payton opts not to return? If he doesn't, what then for New Orleans? Who would they turn to?
Looking around the league, there are only a handful of possible candidates that could replace Sean Payton should he snub the Saints. The usual suspects of Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, and the like will be tossed around but there are several hot coordinators out there that fit the mold of what Payton was when he was first hired – young, hungry, aggressive, and wanting to prove themselves.
Mike McCoy – Off. Coordinator – Denver Broncos
A former college, NFL Europe, and CFL quarterback, McCoy is familiar with the NFC South after having served in several capacities with the Carolina Panthers from offensive assistant to passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach. During his time there he helped mold Jake Delhomme into the quarterback he became and helped make Steve Smith such a dangerous threat. Since assuming the offensive coordinator position with the Broncos in 2009 he has helped Kyle Orton reach career highs in almost every category. He then helped tailor the offense to Tim Tebow's unique skill set making him look like a passable NFL quarterback in the process. Now he's working with Peyton Manning and has helped him return to form.
Jay Gruden – Off. Coordinator – Cincinnati Bengals
The younger brother of John Gruden is another former college QB but instead of Europe or Canada, Jay played in the Arena League for several years. The offensive coordinator for the Bengals since 2011, Jay has been critical in the development of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. He has also interviewed for several head coaching positions and, instead, opted to remain the offensive coordinator for Cincinnati. Gruden is young, talented, and respected throughout the league.
Greg Roman – Off. Coordinator – San Francisco 49ers
The style of offense called by Roman differs from the previous two candidates. Roman's blocking schemes are very sophisticated and he calls a more balanced game, relying on time management, a grueling running game, and safe passing. It's not sexy by any means but it's highly effective. It could also be perfect for an aging Drew Brees whose skills should only regress as he gets older. Roman's offensive style would match Steve Spagnuolo's defensive scheme well, if the former chooses to retain the latter should he be chosen to replace Payton.
The pickings are slim outside of those three candidates should the organization want to choose an offensive-minded head coach. It would put the organization into a huge predicament should Sean Payton choose to leave. Who Dats worldwide, myself included, are all hoping that doesn't happen that next year Payton and Brees are working together again.