As we wait for more free agency news to trickle in I thought I’d rank the Saints’ coaches to pass the time today. A quick aside: what we can expect most immediately, I would think, is some activity with Brian de la Puente. He’s still yet to sign with anyone, but once he does that will dictate what the Saints need to do at center. I’m of course not ruling out the possibility that he’ll return. Also, for what it’s worth, Pro Football Talk announced that a long term deal with Jimmy Graham would likely be reached before April 22nd. That’s encouraging news. That said, here is a little trip down memory lane of the Saints’ coaching history:
1. Sean Payton (2006-2011, 2013-present): He didn’t coach the team in 2012, as we’re all well aware, due to suspension. I still can’t believe that happened. He’s of course the most successful coach in team history by a landslide. No doubt it’s fun to be a Saints fan these days in large part because of him. He has a career 6-4 record in the playoffs, including one Super Bowl title… the only in franchise history. He also has an impressive 73-39 career record to boot. He was the AP Coach of the Year in 2006, he’s led the Saints to the playoffs five times and three division titles.
2. Jim Mora (1986-1996): Still the coach that lasted the longest in team history. He led the Saints to their first division title ever in 1991, and he also won AP Coach of the Year honors in 1987. ’87 marked what was at the time the best record in team history (12-3) and what put the Saints in the playoffs for the first time ever (the 49ers were 13-2, though, and won the division that year). Mora’s legacy will forever have the black mark of never winning a playoff game, though. Despite 4 appearances in the Mora era, the Saints went 0-4 in those games. Being in the same division as the 49ers during their time of league dominance didn’t make things any easier. At 93-74 he’s the only other coach in team history with a winning record.
3. Jim Haslett (2000-2005): Haslett’s first year was magical as he survived a season ending injury to his starting quarterback (Jeff Blake, replaced by Aaron Brooks) to not only lead the Saints to their second ever division title, but their first ever playoff win. It was all downhill after that season, though, as Haslett consistently fielded underperforming teams that would choke in latter stages of the regular season. Haslett’s teams after 2000 were consistently mediocre and just missing out on the playoffs before the disaster that was the 2005 Katrina season. Haslett did win AP Coach of the Year for that 2000 season. He finished his stint with the Saints 45-51 overall.
4. Joe Vitt (2012): He inherited a team that was 2-4 and struggling with the absence of Sean Payton when he himself returned from suspension. While he wasn’t able the right the ship enough to lead the team to the playoffs, he rallied the troops and got a maximum effort from them until late in the season. He finished 5-5 as the interim head coach. Getting to witness his press conferences and get an inside view into his personality almost made the pain of 2012 worth it.
5. Bum Phillips (1981-1985): Hard to believe he makes the top 5, but based on how horrific the team’s history is this will only get worse. He finished 27-42 but he did give the Saints their second .500 season every (8-8) in 1983 and almost made the playoffs, getting eliminated with 2 seconds left against the Rams in week 16 on a Mike Lansford field goal. He followed that up with a 7-9 season in 1984. While Bum at least fielded some competitive squads, his previous success with the Oilers (two AFC Championship game runs) meant he often targeted washed up former Oilers to play on the Saints and by the time they came to New Orleans they had nothing to offer.
6. Dick Stanfel (1980): He only coached 4 games but he managed to find a way to get the Saints’ 1980 squad one win. That was the worst Saints’ team ever and when he took over they were 0-12. I will forever be thankful for Stanfel that he managed to prevent the Saints from going 0-16.
7. Dick Nolan (1978-1980): Nolan’s 79 season marked the first time ever the Saints had a .500 ball club, finished the year at 8-8. That was after being a decent enough 7-9 the previous year. Of course, he followed that up by coaching the infamous 1980 team that was by far the worst in team history, 1-15 on the year. He finished 15-29.
8. John North (1973-1975): The local boy went 11-23 in his short stint. He was largely a disaster.
9. Aaron Kromer (2012): He went 2-4 in 6 games as a coach. He got dealt a really bad hand with Payton and Vitt both MIA. After starting a disastrous 0-4, he was at least able to keep the team focused which led to a two game winning streak before he handed the keys back to Vitt. Still, hard to view his stint as a success by any standard.
10. Wade Phillips (1985): He replaced his father, Bum, to finish out the ’85 season and went just 1-3. He was in over his head at that point but he would go on to have a pretty good career as a coach.
11. Tom Fears (1967-1970): It’s hard to get a brand new franchise off the ground as his 13-34-2 career record would suggest. Unfortunately the team attempted to rely on aging veterans that had success in the league in their prime but those guys were always too old. Fears grew frustrated with personnel decisions and demanded GM control in addition to his coaching duties, which he got before his final season, as after a 1-5-1 start in 1970 he was fired.
12. Mike Ditka (1997-1999): It makes me sick he’s even this high. A three year period with nothing but losing and absolutely horrible roster decisions at every turn. He finished 15-33.
13. Rick Venturi (1996): Taking over for Ditka as the interim coach, he was somehow worse. He finished out that season 1-7. I remember the Saints lone win was against the Giants late in the season on the road and I was floored to get a W. What was most annoying about Venturi is he never seemed to have any value yet he someone managed to survive on the staff of three different coaches (Mora, Ditka and Haslett). The jokes was always wondering what it would take to get this guy fired, and that he clearly had naked pictures of Tom Benson.
14. Ernie Hefferle (1975): Like Venturi he took over for an 8 game stint and went 1-7.
15. J. D. Roberts (1970-1972): Worst record coach in team history. How he lasted three years is unfathomable. He was 7-25-3 in his stint. At least he drafted Archie Manning.
16. Hank Stram (1976-1977): Like Ditka he came with huge expectations based on his successful coaching history. He finished 7-21 in just two season before getting fired, and nothing will be more embarrassing than the loss to the lowly Bucs who coming into that game were sporting a still standing NFL record 26 game losing streak.