Now that we’re out of the playoffs, it’s silly season for Saints fans. Time to start the mock drafts, for instance. Time to make out wish lists of free agents we can sign for $1.29 a game, which is about all we have. And time to start looking for another defensive savior, since last spring’s Man on Horseback shat the bed, the team bus, the plane, the sideline…cleanup crews reportedly will be busy until at least October.
And yeah, I know…I said I was done for awhile. Well, things keep happening, and you either adjust to new realities or you go 7-9.
Like the Saints did, in large part (well…pretty much entirely) because of a defense that was historically bad. And it’s difficult for a fan—especially one who is not in any way a technical expert on the pro-level game—to understand exactly what went wrong. That’s where the media comes in, and where it so often falls on its face. Anyone who watches the games can tell what happened…we need to know why it happened that way. Especially, because we have no behind-the-scenes access, we need the media to give us a glimpse of what goes on off the field.
And for once, they’ve done that…and it’s not good. Larry Holder reports that an anonymous Saints defender is calling for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to be fired.
“Trust me all the guys were being politically correct this season when answering questions,” the player said. “It’s bad.”
“He does have that good-guy persona, but he is a control freak and treats people like crap,” the player said. “(Spagnuolo has) no patience and zero personality. (He) has a way of pissing players and our defensive coaches off with how he says and does things. (I) think it’s even harder after having (former defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams), who guys enjoyed.”
There’s a lot that’s wrong with this. You could be forgiven for thinking that the stress of a lost season is cracking the Saints, and we’re starting to see steam escaping. This is the sort of caper—unattributed, toxic accusations—that you expect from the Jets, not from a team with a high-character locker room like the Saints.
But that’s actually what makes me sit up and take notice. The Saints do have a high-character locker room. This is out of character, extreme. Things must be very bad in the defensive meeting room for anyone to break ranks like this. And besides: didn’t much, or most, or maybe all, of the bitching about Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow turn out to be true?
Who is it? Don’t know (well, we know it isn’t Vilma), but I bet we eventually find out. The unidentified player sounds like a reasonably articulate veteran, someone who’s been around long enough to serve under Williams and like it. I wonder if it’s Shanle, myself. But who it is, while important, isn’t as important as the mere fact that that someone thought things were so bad he went to the media with specific, credible accusations.
Andy Reid just got fired in Philadelphia in large part for losing the locker room (but, to be fair, also for being an assclown who is the most overrated coach of my lifetime). If the same is true of Spagnuolo—if the players no longer (or never did) believe in him—that may be reason enough to send him packing. If he really is the sort of my-way-or-the-highway tyrant that he’s made out to be, he certainly doesn’t fit in with the kind of organization Sean Payton has built up. (If that’s the case, in fact, I wonder if he would have survived the entire season if Payton had been there.)
It can be a mistake to let the locker room run the team. If there’s friction, distance, discord between coach and players, a lot of the time it’s the players who are at fault. Witness Philadelphia, for instance, where Reid was saddled with a lot of unmotivated free agent signings who never worked out—starting with Michael Vick, an assclown who is the most overrated player of my lifetime. But in Reid’s case, those signings were his decisions, and those players’ lack of motivation was his failing. Can the same thing be said of Spagnuolo?
Not on the personnel front, certainly. He inherited virtually all of his players, having a say in only a few signings (like Chris Chamberlain). But it would seem he did nothing to instill confidence in either his ability or his scheme among the players he inherited—many of whom wear Super Bowl rings. Maybe a lot of what we saw on the field was actually a stubborn refusal on the part of the players to work within his system—and if so, yeah, that’s a fireable offense. But are we going to fire all of them?
Let’s face it: someone needs to be canned. Probably a lot of someones. But the list of possible cannings needs to include everyone involved—and if there is truly this much animosity between the players and the man who led them to historic incompetence, in all fairness Spagnuolo’s name has to be at the top of the list.
My own feeling? I believe the player. I don’t think there is anyone on the Saints’ roster who would break ranks in such an egregious way over purely personal matters. I don’t think there’s anyone who would attribute opinions to other players if those opinions didn’t actually exist. And I’ve spent enough time myself inside dysfunctional organizations to recognize what’s going on: this player is either telling the truth, or he’s a sociopath. There may be a lot of sociopaths out there—but there are even more dysfunctional organizations that generate bitching as naturally as Congress pumps out debt.
Besides, it comes down to: the coach, or the locker room. I believe in the Saints’ locker room. If the coach can’t fit, the coach has to go.
So where does that leave us? One defensive savior brought us to the Super Bowl, then blew a hole in the bottom of the hull. The next just widened the hole. Looks like we need another defensive savior…and who’s available?
Lovie Smith. A Super Bowl-winning coordinator. A defensive head coach fired for his offensive failings, when his defenses were pretty damn good. Myself, I wouldn’t mind at all having a Tampa 2-style defense, so long as they could finally do things like, you know, tackle.
Which Spags never managed to get them to do. Not saying that Smith is looking for a coordinator job, or that he’d consider taking over the bottom feeders we’ve become thanks to …someone. But if he’s still out there when Payton comes back, I hope the first thing coach does when he sits back down at his desk is to call Lovie Smith and ask him what his plans are. Because he’s the kind of coach that players like, that they fight for, that they’re loyal to. Spagnuolo may have been that kind of coach elsewhere, but apparently he didn’t bring it with him.
So yeah, Lovie Smith. Sounds about right. Then we draft Jarvis Jones, and sign Osi Umenyiora and Jake Long. Maybe that Porter guy playing for Denver. And then we start planning the parade.
End Note: I swear to God I did not read this first. Apparently, I’m not the only one who puts stock in the anonymous player’s statement, or the only one to start pining for Lovie Smith the instant the Bears let him go. That’s part of what makes being a fan so cool: realizing there are people out there as delusional as you are. I am NOT alone!