METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints finally announced their full slate of coaching staff changes that have been reported in pieces over the past month, including the hiring of Dennis Allen as a senior defensive assistant.
The Saints didn’t spell out Allen’s specific role in the press release, but it’s worth noting that the former Oakland Raiders head coach is listed behind only head coach Sean Payton and assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt -- and ahead of all the coordinators.
It will be interesting to see how the Saints handle the dynamic with Allen and returning defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in a new set-up that the team hasn’t had in place previously. Neither Payton, Allen nor Ryan has been made available to the media since Allen's hiring was first reported.
The guess here is that everyone will embrace the set-up at first and that it can work as long as the defense shows signs of progress. As linebacker Curtis Lofton said last week, he takes the approach that you can never have enough good coaches, just like you can never have enough good players.
However, the natural concern is that if adversity hits, there could be a battle for supremacy or Ryan could feel like Allen is breathing down his neck a little bit.
Ryan was on the hot seat after the Saints’ dreadful defensive performance last season (they finished dead last in the NFL in defensive efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information). And Allen is highly regarded by Payton after he served as a secondary and defensive line coach on Payton’s staff from 2006-2010 before leaving to become the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2011.
But Payton would have weighed the potential risks and rewards of this set-up before making such a move. And he certainly wasn’t afraid to shake things up after the Saints’ disappointing 7-9 season in 2014. Payton promised significant changes and this move qualifies.
The press release also didn’t mention whether Allen will work with a specific position group, though it would make sense for him to return to the secondary in some capacity. The Saints don’t have anyone listed as an assistant secondary coach on their newly formed staff after they parted ways with former assistant secondary coach Andre Curtis. Wesley McGriff remains as New Orleans’ lead secondary coach.
The most significant hire announced on Wednesday that had not been previously confirmed was the addition of former San Francisco 49ers receivers coach John Morton.
Morton spent one year on Payton’s first Saints staff in 2006 as an offensive assistant before he left to become a receivers coach and eventually offensive coordinator at USC. Morton then spent the past four years in San Francisco, where he reunited with Jim Harbaugh, whom Morton also worked with in past years with the Raiders and the University of San Diego.
Morton replaced former Saints receivers coach Henry Ellard, who was let go after the season.
The Saints parted ways with five former assistants this offseason (Ellard, Curtis, tight ends coach Terry Malone, assistant receivers coach Carter Sheridan and assistant offensive line coach Frank Smith).
They hired a total of seven new assistants (Allen, Morton, running backs coach Joel Thomas, defensive assistant/linebackers James Willis, offensive assistants Kyle DeVan and Greg Lewis and coaching assistant Brendan Nugent). Brian Young was also promoted from defensive assistant/linebackers to outside linebackers coach.
Thomas previously coached running backs at Arkansas and Washington, among other college stops. The Saints moved their previous running backs coach, Dan Roushar, to tight ends coach to replace Malone. Roushar had coached tight ends at Michigan State before joining New Orleans’ staff in 2013.
Willis, who played linebacker in the NFL for seven years with the Packers, Eagles and Seahawks, has a lengthy resume in college and the United Football League (where he served as defensive coordinator for the Virginia Destroyers from 2011-2012). Willis spent the past two years as defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette. He previously served as defensive coordinator for Texas Tech and associate head coach/linebackers coach at Alabama, among other stops.
Devan and Lewis were former NFL players as well. Devan an offensive lineman with the Colts, Eagles and Titans; Lewis a receiver with the Eagles and Vikings.