Sean Payton is staying. But at least some changes will be made to the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff.
Secondary coach Wesley McGriff is leaving to become a defensive assistant at Auburn, the school announced Thursday. And quarterbacks coach Mike Neu is expected to become head coach at Ball State, according to a report by FOXSports.com's Bruce Feldman.
McGriff spent the past three years in New Orleans after more than two decades in the college ranks. The Saints could promote defensive assistant Marcus Ungaro into his role since Ungaro has worked with the defensive backs. Or they could look to bring in someone fresh from outside the organization.
Current defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who was promoted in November when Rob Ryan was fired, also works closely with the secondary.
It will be interesting to see if the Saints consider any more changes to the defensive coaching staff after their historically bad 2015 season, in which they set NFL records for opponents’ touchdown passes and passer rating.
Payton said Wednesday that he expects to retain Allen, whom Payton brought back to New Orleans last year in the newly created role of senior defensive assistant. Payton thinks very highly of Allen, who was part of the Saints’ Super Bowl staff before going on to become a defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and head coach of the Oakland Raiders. The Saints defense showed some signs of promise after Allen took over late in the season, but they continued to show plenty of inconsistency, as well. The Saints' defensive staff also includes longtime assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt and defensive line coach Bill Johnson, both of whom have been trusted lieutenants under Payton dating to before the Super Bowl.
If the Saints have to replace Neu, one possibility is to bring back their former quarterbacks coach, Joe Lombardi, who left to become the Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator before being fired this past season. Or they could identify a young up-and-coming assistant to learn under the tutelage of Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., both of whom are QB coaches by trade themselves.