A strange Monday in the Saints’ world began with coach Sean Payton shooting down a report from Fox Sports that the team was firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
It ended with Payton announcing that Ryan had been fired after all.
Ryan’s dismissal came as the Saints were allowing the most points, the most total yards and the most passing yards per game in the NFL after a 47-14 loss at Washington on Sunday. It wasn’t unexpected, but Payton wasn’t willing to announce it when he first met with local media not long after Fox first ran its report.
On Monday evening on his WWL Radio show, Payton confirmed that Ryan was out and that Dennis Allen will take over as defensive coordinator.
On Monday afternoon, Payton had insisted that Ryan “absolutely” remained a part of the organization, even if Payton wouldn’t rule out making changes during the organization’s coming bye week.
Payton also said doing something like firing a defensive coordinator midseason would require “a lot of discussion” that had not yet happened.
“I haven’t met with (General Manager) Mickey Loomis or any of the coaches individually yet, and Mickey and I will spend some time today and some time tomorrow ... with regards to any potential change,” Payton said a day after the Saints’ 33-point loss to Washington. “We’ll be crystal clear here. There won’t be any gray area with our direction.”
Later in the afternoon, Saints defensive captain Cameron Jordan told media that Ryan was in his usual spot at team meetings Monday despite players’ hearing of Fox’s report.
There was a sense Monday at the Saints’ facility that would not be the case for long. While admonishing reporters that he would “go crazy” if they kept asking him about Ryan’s job status, Payton made it clear that “continuing just along the same course that we’re taking right now is not something that we’re going to do,” referencing both the Saints’ coaching staff and players.
Jordan then said he and his fellow Saints defenders had heard the outside rumors about Ryan and acknowledged they didn’t know what the future held for their embattled coordinator, even after declaring, “Rob’s the emotional leader of ours -- as long as he’s in the building, he’s looking to get us in the right direction.”
Monday’s uncertain atmosphere accentuated just how Ryan’s fortunes in New Orleans have changed since his first season in 2013, when the Saints allowed the fourth-fewest yards and points in the NFL and won their first away playoff game in franchise history.
The Saints were expecting to build off that performance and win their second Super Bowl ever in 2014; but, after numerous personnel changes, the Saints allowed the second-most total yards in the league last season and fell short of the playoffs.
New Orleans prioritized returning to respectability on the defensive side of the ball this season. They used the draft to bring in young defensive talent, and they traded away prolific offensive playmakers such as Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham in hopes of arming the defense with more weapons.
The Saints also chose to simplify the “exotic” scheme Ryan brought with him to New Orleans in 2013 and used again in 2014. And they brought in Allen to serve as an assistant after being the head coach of the Oakland Raiders as well as the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in recent seasons.
The defensive improvement New Orleans so fervently hungered for has not materialized, however. The Saints have given up 130 points in their last three contests alone, two of which they’ve lost. The 424.7 yards per game they were surrendering as of Monday has them on pace to be the second-worst defense in NFL history, behind only the 2012 Saints, who gave up 440.1 yards per game under Steve Spagnuolo before he was replaced by Ryan.
The Saints were the fourth team for which Ryan has worked since he became an NFL defensive coordinator 12 seasons ago. He spent his first six seasons as a defensive coordinator with the Raiders but then didn’t make it to a third season in that role with either Cleveland (2009-10) or Dallas (2011-12).