There might be some personal satisfaction in a win Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in New Orleans for Allen, who was hired by the then-Oakland Raiders in January 2012 and fired four games into his third season after an 8-28 record.
It would also keep the Saints (2-5) in the hunt for the NFC South title, where they are currently 1.5 games back from first place despite being in last. The Raiders (2-4), like the Saints, have struggled under a new coach -- in their case Josh McDaniels.
Even if the Saints beat the Raiders, it won’t prove much about Allen’s abilities as a head coach. He has a long way to go to right the ship in New Orleans this season and show that he’s better than his current career record (10-33).
His first season as Saints coach has been a mixed bag, with a lengthy list of injuries and poor play from his veterans.
The Saints and Allen both preached continuity after his hiring, bringing back most of the coaching staff from last season. If things in New Orleans go south, he won’t be able to point to the excuses he had in Oakland, where Allen was a 39-year-old first-time head coach working for a new general manager and owner.
“I think I was prepared to be a head coach,” Allen, now 50, said. “And certainly there’s a lot of things that come up that maybe you don’t anticipate. But I don’t know if I was ready to be a head coach there.”
WHEN ALLEN WAS announced as Sean Payton’s successor in New Orleans on Feb. 8, it raised some eyebrows.
Amy Trask, who served as Raiders CEO from 2007 until 2013, was among the skeptics.
“A number of players, and by a number, I mean not an insignificant number of players, said to me they did not believe Dennis was treating them as adults, as professionals [while in Oakland],” Trask recently told ESPN.
Trask, who worked with Allen during his first season in Oakland, has not held back on her feelings about him over the years, joking in a 2020 interview that Allen’s greatest contribution to the Raiders was how his Saints’ defense played against them in a 34-24 loss in 2020.
“Everybody's entitled to their own opinion,” Allen said prior to the season. "I don't agree with hers, you know, and I'm not one to voice my opinion about other people publicly."
Former Raiders offensive tackle Khalif Barnes, who played for the Raiders from 2009 to 2015 and also had a one-season stint in New Orleans in 2016, said he never felt Allen lost the locker room in Oakland, noting “he came into a hairy situation.”
“You’re not going to get along with everybody. … Experience might be totally different,” Barnes said.
A few months before Allen was hired in Oakland, Raiders owner Mark Davis had taken over, following the death of his father, Al Davis. Allen had one year of experience at the coordinator position, while general manager Reggie McKenzie had no experience at that level.
“I gave Reggie the ability to bring in his own head coach, which was the ability to have some type of working relationship,” Davis said in January. “That didn’t work out so well at that time. I think it was because they were two young guys that were working together, but they really didn’t have the experience to run a football team.”
ALLEN'S SUPPORTERS SAY he was never given a fair shot by the Raiders. Allen’s former defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said things were going to “take a while in that building.”
The Raiders in that era did not have a Pro Bowl draft pick until 2014, when they took linebacker Khalil Mack in the first round and quarterback Derek Carr in the second, only a few months before Allen got fired.
“He didn’t get to reap the benefits,” Tarver said.
Carr, a three-time Pro Bowler, is still with the Raiders and, coming into the game, he had kind words for the coach that gave him a chance.
"[Allen] and I have a great relationship still to this day," Carr said. "And I still talk to him and things like that -- obviously not this week and all those things, but we've always kept in contact, we've always been close. I love him, I loved having him."
Carr has also expressed his gratitude toward Allen for starting him over Matt Schaub in 2014 as a rookie.
“He’s the one that made the decision,” Barnes said. “Schaub had went down, and he made the decision after the fourth preseason game [when] he saw Derek play against the Seahawks, he’s the one that actually made the decision to start Derek and throw him in the fire right then and there. So he had a good impulse and decision.”
Saints assistant offensive line coach Zach Strief, who also played for the organization from 2006 to 2017, said the general consensus about Allen’s tenure in Oakland was that he had “no chance.”
“And everybody that’s in football would say he didn’t have a chance. It is what it is,” Strief said during training camp. “Now he’s at a place where there’s a ton of talent. … It’s a very different circumstance, and he has the experience of mistakes that were made there.”
Trask acknowledged there were difficulties in Oakland and emphasized she believes in giving others the latitude to grow from their mistakes. She said if Allen did grow from that experience, the Saints would have seen it happen firsthand when they hired him back as a senior defensive assistant in 2015.
“Just as I made mistakes in the early years of my career, and I learned from those mistakes and grew from those mistakes, he may well have done so,” Trask said. “The Saints … had a front-row seat to that growth. I feel very passionately that you can learn from your mistakes, you can grow on the job, you can grow up on the job.”
Allen’s vaunted defense hasn’t looked itself this year, with players missing tackles and giving up explosive plays. The Saints are one of most penalized teams and have a turnover ratio of minus-10, the worst in the league.
The Saints have given the ball away a league-high 16 times this season. While the defense is tied for fifth in fumble recoveries with five, it is also tied for last with one interception. It's a stark contrast from the Raiders, who are tied with the Cardinals for the second-fewest giveaways (five).
Injuries aside, Allen admits some of these problems don’t have immediate fixes.
“There’s not this magic pill, this magic formula,” Allen said, when asked about tackling issues. “I think we all live in a microwave society, and we want to see things change right away. And look, we’re working as hard as we can to get it fixed.
“You’ve got to continue to work on it, continue to work on it, continue to work on it, and as you do, the results may not be immediate, but eventually the results will come.”
Potential long-term problems for the Saints loom as well, with no 2023 first-round pick, no long-term quarterback plan and ballooning contracts for older and injured veterans. Overcoming some of those issues and getting the Saints to the playoffs again could be a tall task without the right person in charge.
Allen’s players believe that person is him.
“We have the right guys in this locker room,” running back Mark Ingram II said. “We have the right guys on this team, the right coaching staff. We believe in each other and obviously know there is going to be a lot of outside noise. A lot of people outside the building are trying to tear us apart and trying to bring us down, but we know what we have in this locker room.”
With 10 games left, Allen’s leadership will be scrutinized. Right now, he said, the team is “frustrated but not despondent.”
“Everything we want to accomplish is still … right in front of us,” Allen said. “I’m fully confident that this team will put together a string of wins and turn things around.”
And although Allen says a game against the franchise that gave him his first head coaching job won't be emotional, running back Alvin Kamara had words to back his coach.
"We’re going to whup their ass and make D.A. feel good," Kamara said.
Well, that's one way to get a triumphant homecoming.