MOBILE, Ala. — Sean Payton descended on the Senior Bowl this week with a retooled coaching staff, flush with new faces that included big names, former players and coaches who already know how Payton likes to operate.
Former Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell, former Saints assistant and Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, former Cowboys and Saints cornerback Aaron Glenn and veteran secondary coach Peter Giunta have all joined the staff, adding fresh blood to the staff. They fill holes that opened when many of Payton’s former assistants got promotions, rather than the firings that happened at the end of last season.
One spot still has to be filled — Payton will interview coaches for the offensive assistant left open by Greg Lewis getting hired as receivers coach in Philadelphia — but the Saints head coach said he likes the staff he brought to Ladd-Peebles Stadium this week.
“A few of those things happened right away, with guys getting a chance at another position, and we were fortunate to be able to hire a handful of good coaches and get that done prior to coming here,” Payton said. “It’s hard coming here if you have to find two or three different coaches.”
Campbell is the headliner, the assistant who took over the Dolphins this season and earned a shot at the full-time job by winning his first two games and directing Miami to a 5-7 record despite massive changes to the coaching staff.
When the Dolphins hired Adam Gase instead, Campbell drew interest from the Vikings, Cowboys and other teams, but Payton wrapped up his former player by making him an assistant head coach — the same position Joe Vitt handles for the defense.
Payton coached Campbell in New York, Dallas and briefly in New Orleans, and he knows the energy and intensity Campbell can bring to the staff.
“I’ve always followed his career, just a huge fan,” Payton said. “For a short time in ’09, he worked with us before he retired. Just a hard worker, a good teacher.”
The more substantial change may come with the handling of the offensive line, where Campbell will play a part.
Payton parted ways with Bret Ingalls, who had spent seven seasons on the Saints staff, and handed the offensive line to veteran coach Dan Roushar, who will team with Campbell to coordinate of the running game. Payton hinted that Roushar, who has been an offensive coordinator four times at the college level, will help bring a philosophical change without going into detail.
At any rate, the offensive line will hear completely new voices across the board. Ingalls’ assistant, Kyle Devand, joined former Saints quarterback Mike Neu’s staff at Ball State, and Payton promoted assistant Brendan Nugent into that role.
“Overall, philosophically, I know Dan Roushar’s background, and I think he’ll bring a certain element to the room,” Payton said. “It’s just one of those tough decisions that I felt was necessary, and. those are never easy.”
Defensively, Payton made his change in November, firing Rob Ryan and promoting Dennis Allen to the job.
Despite rampant speculation that more changes might be coming, the Saints hired Glenn — another player Payton once coached in Dallas and New Orleans — to replace Wesley McGriff, who returned to the college ranks with Auburn.
And then Payton hired Giunta — the lone coach with whom who didn’t have a previous relationship — to take over the role Allen filled in New Orleans before rising to coordinator.
“I’ve never worked with Peter, but I know, obviously, the reputation, all the way back to St. Louis, when he was with the Rams,” Payton said. “His experience will help us tremendously, and he’ll be a real good ally for Dennis in regards to having seen and done a number of things. He’ll help us in the back end, with third down. Just one of those real sharp veteran coaches that has really worked going back to Bud Carson with the Eagles.”
Unlike last year’s Senior Bowl, when the Saints still had plenty of moves to make on the coaching staff and in the front office, New Orleans descended on Mobile with a full complement of coaches, chess pieces already moved.
And Payton likes what he has put together.