Ralph Malbrough / WWLTV.com Contributing Writer
Real football is almost here. Thank whatever higher power you believe in for it. Don’t kid yourself and think just because actual games will start soon we won’t have to listen to the media talk about bounties, pay to injure, Mickey Loomis allegedly going Richard Nixon and bugging the opposing team and any other storyline from the worst offseason in the history of history. No escaping it. We won’t hear the end of bounties until the Saints season is over.
On a podcast I do every week we thought of inventing one of those college-drinking games where every time an announcer says certain words during the game you drink. We made a list of bounty related terms but decided anyone that actually tried to play our bounty drinking game would need to go to the emergency room before halftime of the first preseason game. Not a good idea. Safety is first here at the Forecast and WWLTV.com.
So with training camp right around the corner I’m going to try and answer the one question you’ll hear asked nine million times before the Redskins game and according to the talking heads the important question regarding the 2012 Saints: How will they do without Sean Payton?
Some national media like ESPN’s Mike Greenberg predict disaster. The reasoning goes something along the lines of, “If the Saints can win without their head coach then NFL coaches are the most overpaid people on Earth.”
The media has told you, “No NFL team has ever had to play a season without their head coach because he got suspended. No one has any idea how the Saints will do.”
True. But what does history tell us about really good or great teams that lose their coach? Is there precedent for a team to lose their coach and still be successful the next season?
The NFL has a couple of examples but college football proves it happens way more than you think. Two NFL teams in the last 25 years won a Super Bowl then had a new coach the next season.
In 1988 Bill Walsh retired after leading the San Francisco 49ers to their third Super Bowl title. Walsh, much like Sean Payton, was considered an offensive genius. He invented the West Coast Offense, drafted Joe Montana and ruined my childhood. The 49ers replaced him with defensive coordinator George Seifert. I remember Seifert for two things - Dead bodies showed more emotion in coffins than Seifert did during games and he to this day is the opposing coach my mom hates the most. George, if you ever see a red headed woman wearing a Sammy Knight Jersey walking towards you, run away. Fast.
In his first year, the 49ers went 14-2 and crushed Denver in the Super Bowl. He went 98-30 as San Francisco’s coach and would win another Super Bowl.
Not convinced huh?
Here is my favorite example to tell myself the 2012 will be just fine without Sean Payton.
In 1994 the Dallas Cowboys had won two straight Super Bowls under Jimmy Johnson but then after Johnson didn’t toast Jerry Jones at dinner, Jones fired him. Or Johnson quit. Depends on who is telling the story. Anyway Jones stunned the world when he replaced Johnson with former Oklahoma Sooners coach Barry Switzer.
Switzer hadn’t coached anywhere since 1988 and the sports world was in general agreement that Jerry had lost his mind. What the hell did Switzer know about coaching in the NFL? Didn’t he run the wishbone at Oklahoma? Yep.
In his first year all he did was go 12-4 and get the Cowboys to the NFC Championship. The Cowboys also had a new offensive coordinator in 1994 because Norv Turner left to coach the Redskins and run his first NFL team into the ground one bad coaching decision at a time.
In his second season Barry Switzer went 12-4 again and won the Super Bowl. The most memorable thing Barry did as head coach in Dallas was accidentally carry a handgun on a team flight.
When anybody tells you the 2012 Saints are going to crash and burn just say, “If freaking Barry Switzer can win a Super Bowl, Joe Vitt and whoever coaches the first six weeks can, too.” I’ll be telling myself this all year long.
But didn’t the Cowboys eventually completely fall apart under Switzer? Of course they did because Jerry Jones is insane, the Cowboys got old and Switzer’s idea of discipline was not driving home drunk.
The key word in the previous paragraph is eventually. When a great head coach leaves a team usually erodes over time but they don’t turn into horse poop all at once. Sean Payton might be gone for a year but everything he put in place the last six won’t disappear.
In college football coaches switch jobs every year and just because a school loses their coach doesn’t mean they are doomed.
In 2001 Butch Davis left the Miami Hurricanes to go be a well-paid failure in the NFL with Cleveland. In stepped Larry Coker and he won 24 straight games, a national title, and was one bad call from back-to-back titles. You know where Larry is coaching in 2012? The University of Texas at San Antonio. Apparently he wasn’t the next Bear Bryant.
Want an example closer to home to make you feel good about the Saints chances in 2012? Before Nick Saban arrived in 2000 and Les Miles followed with his craziness and football dominance the LSU Tigers were basically a laughing stock for 15 years.
In 1987 34-year-old Mike Archer ushered in arguably the worst stretch in 100-plus years of Tiger football. Of course nobody knew it at the time because he took over a team that had just won an SEC Title and had a Heisman trophy candidate quarterback. He went 10-1-1 his first year and LSU finished the season ranked fifth. In his first year even Mike Archer couldn’t screw up a great team. The Tigers slide from the nation’s elite was swift and severe as LSU wouldn’t finish a season ranked in the Top Ten again until 2001.
Remember though we aren’t worried about the future because Payton will be back in 2013. All we care about is now.
The Saints might not be coming off a Super Bowl win like Dallas or San Francisco but they are loaded with talent like the 2001 Hurricanes and 1987 Tigers. However 2012 turns out for the Saints Sean Payton not being part of it won’t end up being as a big a reason as everybody thinks right now.
The NFL season is great like that; your biggest worry in July and August is replaced by something completely different in September. Payton being gone matters but staying healthy, having a pass rush, and getting better linebacker play will matter more.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.