Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis sat down recently to have a conversation about their respective roles with the Saints and where they felt the other was succeeding and the areas where improvements could be made.
They said nothing was held back, and there were times when things felt a little uncomfortable. But this is the way Loomis, the general manager of the Saints, discusses things with his head coach. Nothing can get accomplished when people are trying to be polite. And after a 7-9 season, there’s no need to sugarcoat things.
“I don’t think there’s any topic or any subject that we can’t have a discussion about,” Loomis said. “We don’t always agree. That’s some thought that maybe we agree on everything. We don’t — we have different viewpoints. Sometimes the conversations can be a little uncomfortable. I’m not afraid to say anything that I feel to him, and he certainly doesn’t have any fear of discussion any issue with me. I think it’s healthy.”
This, Loomis says, is where improvements have to start. It’s up to everyone, of course, but getting back to the playoffs starts with making better personnel decisions and coaching those players up.
The general feeling in those discussions is likely one of disappointment. Loomis also noted he believes the team has gotten away from the core values instilled by Payton after the coach arrived in 2006, and he also admitted to having regrets about some of the personnel moves made this season.
So, like Payton did a week ago, Loomis promised changes are going to come during his meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ve got to be honest about it. Why were we 7-9?” Loomis said. “What were some of the things that prevented us from winning some of the close games that we had? Why did we have some close games when maybe we felt like there were opportunities for us to be better than that? That’s the process that we’re really starting.”
Loomis is no closer to answering those questions than Payton was during his final meeting with the media a week ago — other than noting that some people who helped this team underachieve last season will be let go. Some of those changes have already begun taking place.
The Saints have made a handful of changes to the coaching staff by firing tight ends coach Terry Malone, wide receiver coach Henry Ellard, and defensive backs coach Andre Curtis last week. It’s unclear if more changes will be made to the staff, and Loomis did not provide any details when specifically asked about the status of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
“We’re in the very beginning of the evaluation process, and look, when we get our decisions completely made, we’ll make announcements at the appropriate time,” he said.
Regardless of when further changes take place — whether it be to the coaching staff or to the roster — Loomis is spending his time finding solutions to the team’s various problems. From the outside looking in, it appears the general manager’s biggest challenge will be finding a way to create enough financial flexibility to make improvements.
By most calculations, this team is already $20 million over the salary cap heading into the 2015 league year. Loomis, however, said that figure is closer to $10 million once you figure in various “mechanisms” included in some contracts, and he feels the team has a clear plan to further lower that figure.
In fact, he believes the team is in a better financial position than it was a year ago.
“We’ve been in this environment for a number years here now,” Loomis said. “We got a good team, a high-paying team, so we’ve been in this environment being up against the cap, being near the cap. I’m comfortable with that.
“Obviously we got some decisions to make and got an evaluation of the roster that we have to match to our salary-cap structure. We know how to do that.”
The Saints were in a similar position last season and still managed to fit safety Jairus Byrd and tight end Jimmy Graham onto the roster. This isn’t his first time down this path, so there’s reason for him to feel confident about his ability to improve this team.
And that path will come clear to him during his meetings with Payton, when the two men charged with improving this team are forced to take a hard look at one another.
“We have conversations where we are very frank,” Loomis said.
Hopefully, for the state of this franchise, those two are being frank about the changes that needed to get this team back into the playoffs.