Saints' Kenny Vaccaro 'sick' over Rob Ryan firing: 'We let him down'

METAIRIE, La. -- Kenny Vaccaro said he “felt kind of sick” when New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired last week -- both because he loved him and because he felt like the players let him down.

“It was tough for me, especially since I feel like we came in together, we were part of a good thing that first year (2013),” Vaccaro said. “I love him, man. I loved him as a coach, I love him as a friend.

“I feel like it was our fault. When you’re ranked 32, I think everybody has their hand in that pot. But at the same time, I feel like we let him down as players. A good man got fired, and it was sad to see.”

Although Ryan was popular with players, Vaccaro and others said they accepted the decision -- and frankly saw it coming. The Saints’ defense was ranked last in the NFL in both yards allowed and points allowed and played arguably its worst game of the year in a 47-14 loss at Washington in Week 10 before Ryan was fired during the bye week.

The Saints (4-6) are on pace to shatter the NFL record for opponents’ passer rating (116.5). They have allowed 28 TD passes with only four interceptions.

“At that point, you’re pretty much ready for whatever, to be honest,” safety Jairus Byrd said. “We knew something had to happen. Obviously coach (Sean) Payton made it clear with what was being put out there. Unfortunately it was (Ryan). Obviously you don’t like to see that, but I guess that’s the nature of the business.”

“We gotta accept it,” Vaccaro added. “At the end of the day, this is a result-driven league. And as a player, you still gotta perform. When they put on that tape across the league, they don’t care who’s the coach, they don’t care who’s the interim or whatever. They just care about if you’re performing.”

New Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen echoed the players and accepted his share of the blame, since he has spent the year as a senior defensive assistant working primarily with the secondary.

"Listen, all of us -- players, coaches, everybody -- we’ve all got our autograph on where we are right now as a football team and specifically as a defense. And we’ve gotta work to try and change that image,” said Allen, who said he feels for Ryan -- especially as someone who went through the same thing last year when he was fired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders during the middle of the season.

“Obviously it’s a difficult situation to be in, really for everybody that’s involved. I have strong feelings for Rob Ryan and the type of individual that he is. I know it’s tough when you have a situation like this, because families are involved,” Allen said. “But we’ve gotta move forward. And I’m looking forward to the opportunity, excited about getting the chance to hopefully improve this defense.”

The scheme itself won’t change dramatically, both because it’s so late into the season and because Allen was already involved in devising and coaching the current scheme. Allen was specifically in charge of coming up with the third-down plan for each game, though Ryan made all of the calls on the field.

Allen said his play-calling personality will be slightly different, as it would be with any coach. Allen’s history as coach of the Raiders and defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos suggests that might involve more aggression and more blitzing.

Everyone who describes Allen suggests that he’ll also be more organized and fundamentally sound than Ryan, which was a big part of the move. The volume of substitution and alignment errors under Ryan (especially in 2014) irked Payton to no end.

But more than anything, Allen and players all said the biggest change has to come from improved performance.

“I think one of the things that we’re focusing on is just playing the game the right way with that effort and intensity and tenacity that you’ve gotta play the game of defense with,” Allen said. “What we’ve gotta do is give the guys a plan that they can go out and execute. And then they’ve gotta go out and play.”

“You don’t want to change too much scheme-wise, because we’ve been practicing the same stuff all year. But at the same time, us players, we can change,” Vaccaro said. “We can play better, we can play harder. You can’t control a call, but you can control your effort and your focus.”