MOBILE, Ala. — Five years ago Sunday, New Orleans Saints director of college scouting Rick Reiprish was sitting on the front row at the Senior Bowl weigh-ins, accepting the congratulations of his peers from around the NFL after the Saints had reached the Super Bowl the night before.
For the hundreds of personnel people around the league who labor in anonymity, there’s no better place to be than here on that day.
Tuesday morning, Reiprish wasn’t too far from that same front-row seat, probably anxious to talk to General Manager Mickey Loomis about the team’s director of player personnel post, which he had publicly expressed a desire for the night before.
But by Tuesday afternoon, Reiprish was out of a job, fired after 11 years with the club — ostensibly to make room for former Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland.
Reiprish expressed genuine surprise at his dismissal although, after 35 years in the NFL, one would think his radar would have been a little more attuned — especially after Loomis’ vow for a top-to-bottom review of the Saints’ entire football operation following the team’s 7-9 record in a season when many predicted a Super Bowl.
In a few hours, he went from hopeful of a promotion to one of “those guys” you see here this week — the unemployed, often through no fault of their own, talking up old acquaintances and introducing themselves to those they don’t know in hopes of getting back on the fast-moving carousel that eventually throws just about everyone.
Kansas City coach Andy Reid tells the tale of how, when he was first hired as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, he made the mistake of attending practice here and found himself having to fend off people who wanted to stuff résumés in his pocket.
Reiprish shouldn’t remain in limbo for long. He probably could have circled the field at Fairhope High School, where the South team was practicing, and gotten a couple of job offers.
“That’s a tough one,” Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said when hearing of Reiprish’s firing. “This is a difficult profession, and scouting is difficult.”
It would be easy to say last year’s draft disappointments made Reiprish a scapegoat.
Lower-round picks usually are the product of scouting department recommendations, and Khairi Fortt (waived at midseason), Ronald Powell (basically special teams only) and Tavon Rooks (practice squad and not resigned) do not reflect well on that judgment. And there has to be shared responsibility for second-round nonentity Stanley Jean-Baptiste.
But one bad draft, which can’t be fully evaluated for another year or two, doesn’t get you fired. Or at least it shouldn’t.
The Saints are going through a serious look at themselves — the kind of players they want, how they’re coached and how they are held accountable. That goes for the staff as well.
We’ve already seen the firing of three assistants and the return of former assistant Dennis Allen with the mysterious “senior defensive role” designation. (In other words, keep an eye over your shoulder, Rob Ryan.)
With Ireland undoubtedly wanting to bring in some of his own people, it follows that other heads will roll.
And the team has yet to announce how it will replace Ryan Pace, for whom the director of player personnel spot was created and just two years later became general manager of the Chicago Bears.
With Loomis in his post since 2002, the Saints’ personnel department has been a predictably stable one.
The average tenure of the Saints’ scouting department this season was 8.8 years. That’s a long time in a not-for-long league.
That kind of continuity, Reiprish pointed out before the axe fell, keeps everyone on the same page.
But he added — not for attribution, although it doesn’t matter now — when asked about the need to keep things fresh, “What’s wrong doing the same thing over and over if you’re successful? If you’re having problems and you’re not being successful, then you do the evaluations.”
Right there, Reiprish foretold his own exit.
Since the Super Bowl, the Saints’ draft has produced two Pro Bowlers: Jimmy Graham and Cameron Jordan. (Third alternate Mark Ingram doesn’t count.) There are no starters from the fourth round or lower.
It’s not fair to accuse Reiprish and his staff of the kind of complacency arrogance produces. And even if there was, it was no worse than in other areas of the team’s operations.
It’s why five years after that fun, fun day here after an even more fun, fun night in New Orleans, the Saints haven’t been back to the Super Bowl.
A good man lost his job Tuesday. Others likely will as well.
“When things go wrong, it’s not fun,” Dimitroff said. “(But) we’re all subject to change.”
Even if we don’t see it coming.