METAIRIE, La. — Dennis Allen would like you to believe he hasn’t risen through the ranks quickly to become an NFL head coach.
He recalls breaking into the profession as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M and it taking four years before becoming a full-time coach somewhere.
But one look at his resume and it’s hard to take the now 40-year-old coach seriously.
Just two years ago, Allen was the secondary coach with the Saints. Just five years ago, he was an assistant defensive line coach. And just seven years ago, he was helping out with quality control.
So, yeah, Allen can be classified as a fast riser.
And no one who has met, played for and coach with Allen is surprised.
“He's smart, has great people skills, is detail-oriented (and) truly understands the game,” acting Saints head coach Joe Vitt said.
Sunday, at 3:05 p.m., Allen will get his first crack at coaching against his former players, some of the same ones he helped coach to a championship in Super Bowl XLIV.
He’s hoping to have more success than his Raiders (3-6) have had the past two weeks, losing by a combined 45 points, including giving up 55 points in its most recent loss.
Regardless of how Oakland has been, those who played for him in New Orleans believe he’ll ultimately turn things around on the west coast.
“He understands the whole thing and what it takes to win,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “I know he’ll get those guys going. They’ve had some ups and downs, but at the end of the end of the day, it’s going to happen.”
Harper, for one, hopes Allen succeeds. While he said he didn’t want to claim credit, he believes he was the first to spot Allen’s talent.
“I said, ‘You’ll be a better defensive coordinator than a DB coach,’ and he’s a really good DB coach,” Harper said. “Lo and behold, the following year he’s a d-coordinator and now he’s a head coach. It’s crazy.”
Allen simply laughed when told about Harper’s claim, faux-admitting that the Saints’ safety made the coach what he is today.
Still, two years removed from coaching on Airline Drive, you can tell there’s respect and affection between Allen and the members of the Saints’ secondary who remain from his tenure.
“At the end of the day, the group that I had there in New Orleans was a special group,” Allen said. “The way that they played and worked as a secondary unit…there is no doubt that is where I got recognition. That was the start of my ability for where I am at.”
Allen also learned lessons in what wins and what loses, taking one of Sean Payton’s sayings – the phrase “Formula for Winning” – and using it around the Oakland facility.
“You can tell he has tremendous respect for the organization you guys are a part of over there and tremendous respect for Sean Payton,” Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer said. “He doesn’t talk about it a lot but you can just tell by some the things he says every once in a while, his admiration for his time there and his relationship with Coach (Sean) Payton.”
Said Allen, “The fact that (Payton) was able to just stand strong on what those beliefs were and he wasn’t afraid to make tough decisions, that’s what you have to do as a head coach.”