METAIRIE, La. -- The first big decision facing the New Orleans Saints when their offseason begins next week is whether to make any coaching-staff changes -- most importantly, whether to stick with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
As they have all season, Saints players continued to offer strong support for Ryan in the locker room Monday. Safety Kenny Vaccaro didn't even just say he wants Ryan to be back; he insisted he will be.
"Rob will be here," Vaccaro said twice in response to questions about Ryan. "Rob's my guy. I love Rob. I'll fight for Rob every game. I'm a Rob guy, so there's no point even asking me about Rob. He'll ride with me until the end. Year 17, he'll come get me off my couch and say, 'Come play with me.'"
Cornerback Keenan Lewis agreed.
"I want him back. I'm gonna ride with him, no matter what the situation is. A great coordinator," Lewis said. "You can't just blame him when things go wrong. I don't think none of the blame should go to the coaches at all. We're the ones out there playing. We've gotta find a way to get it stopped.
"You know, I've played for two good coordinators. I was fortunate playing for Coach LeBeau [Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh], and I had an opportunity to play for Coach Rob, and I definitely feel as though he should be back."
When asked if players feel the need to convey their support for Ryan to the decision-makers, defensive end Tyrunn Walker said, "I think they know what they got. I think they know that he's a great coach and a great mentor."
Other veterans such as Curtis Lofton, Junior Galette, Parys Haralson and David Hawthorne, who have played with multiple defensive coordinators, have also passionately sung Ryan's praises in recent weeks.
So did head coach Sean Payton a few weeks ago when reports surfaced about an alleged rift in their relationship -- going above and beyond in crediting Ryan's passion and work ethic and even offering the ultimate compliment that he could've worked for Payton's mentor, Bill Parcells.
But the ultimate question is whether Payton can accept the lack of production he saw on the field from the Saints' defense. They're ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed (390.9 per game). They're tied for 28th in takeaways (16). And the Saints are by far the worst-ranked defense according to ESPN Stats & Information's defensive efficiency formula, accounting for negative-8.6 expected points added per game. That's worse than 2012, when the Saints were negative-7.0. And Payton fired coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after one year.
There were a few big differences that season, though. For one, Spagnuolo never actually worked for Payton, since Payton was serving a season-long suspension. But the bigger difference is Spagnuolo didn't have nearly the kind of "buy-in" from players in his system that Ryan has.
Plus, Ryan did get results from many of these same players in 2013 before this year's collapse.
A lot of the Saints' offseason decisions will depend heavily on how much they believe in the potential of 2013 vs. the regression of 2014.
Payton, however, wasn't interested in looking at any of those big-picture decisions on Monday with one week still remaining in the regular season and a game coming Sunday at Tampa Bay.
"We'll have a chance to look over every element, as far as from playing to coaching to who's in the building [next week]," Payton said. "All of those things, like we would every year."