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Coaching changes signal sense of urgency from Sean Payton, Saints

METAIRIE, La. -- Jonathan Vilma was right. As the former New Orleans Saints linebacker said on Twitter, Saints fans shouldn't be celebrating the departures of Joe Vitt and other longtime assistant coaches like Greg McMahon and Bill Johnson.

Those guys all helped bring a first Super Bowl championship to New Orleans. And Vitt, in particular, was as instrumental in reviving the franchise after Hurricane Katrina as anyone outside of head coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees and general manager Mickey Loomis.

Vitt brought decades of experience and wisdom to Payton's first-ever coaching staff. And I've never heard more players express their love for a coach like they have with Vitt over the past decade.

However, it is fair to suggest that Vitt brought more value in his role as assistant head coach than he did as a linebackers coach -- where the Saints have struggled to develop young talent.

And it is absolutely fair to agree that fresh voices and ideas were needed on defense and special teams -- both areas where the Saints have struggled mightily for the better part of five years now.

The fact that Payton decided to make those changes (the coaching staff is his call) signals just how much urgency is being felt to turn this team back into a contender.

Desperation? I wouldn't go quite that far. But let's face it, Brees' arm will eventually have an expiration date, even though it didn't look like it in 2016. And if the Saints miss the playoffs again next season, Payton or the team might decide to move in a different direction, figuring everything has grown too stale.

Payton obviously hasn't been desperate to leave over the past two years (the fact that he remains the Saints' coach is a pretty good indicator of that). But I'm sure he has considered the idea of a fresh start or maybe a different front office setup. And I'm sure the Saints' front office has considered this as well. That's what happens when you miss the playoffs for three straight years.

I genuinely like the Saints' chances of making the playoffs in 2017. But as I wrote a month ago, it sure feels like 2017 or bust at this point, especially with Brees heading into the final year of his contract again at age 38.

The coaching changes could help. By all accounts, the Saints seem happy with some of the recent adjustments they've made to the coaching staff, like bringing back Dennis Allen as defensive coordinator, moving Dan Roushar to offensive line coach and hiring assistant head coach Dan Campbell and secondary coach Aaron Glenn.

The coaching changes won't solve everything on their own, thought. The coaching staff was hardly the only reason for three straight 7-9 finishes.

The Saints let their locker room culture erode -- something they have addressed since the end of the 2014 season, from a revitalized Payton on down.

And they let the talent erode, from some poor free-agent spending decisions to some lousy draft classes -- something else they have addressed by overhauling the college scouting department over the past two years.

There's more than one reason why the Saints built an outstanding Super Bowl championship team. They got so many things right from 2006-09, from the coaching staff to the quarterback to the ridiculous 2006 draft class and some other draft picks (guard Jahri Evans, receiver Marques Colston, guard Carl Nicks, etc.) to some great free-agent pickups (linebacker Scott Fujita, safety Darren Sharper, cornerback Jabari Greer, etc.) to the general attitude and motivation and culture surrounding the team.

And there's more than one reason why the Saints have declined over the past half-decade.

So to borrow a word that Payton loves, it would be "silly" to pretend like one easy solution exists. But the Saints are hoping that Thursday's changes can become the latest piece of the puzzle.