Joe Vitt can be gruff.
He can be sarcastic and he can be defensive.
He can also still be the man those inside the Saints’ facility trust and turn to for the next nine months.
The latest hit for the Saints and Vitt came via the released declaration to the NFL written by former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who alleged in it that then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Vitt told him to deny any knowledge of a bounty program to league investigators.
Whether Vitt was part of that conversation or not – and he told the Times-Picayune late Monday afternoon that he did not tell Hargrove to deny or lie about the existence of the program – won’t, ultimately, matter come May 22.
That’s when the Saints can begin OTAs (organized team activities) and that’s when Vitt will get his first real opportunity to lead those players currently on the roster.
When Vitt originally was named as the man who will keep Sean Payton’s seat warm on April 12, the players all lauded the move.
They called him the man best suited to take over for Payton. After all, he did it in mid-October when the head coach went down with the brutal knee injury.
Vitt kept the ship righted this past fall when it could have sunk. Even with quarterback Drew Brees in the locker room, there had to be leadership from on high to keep everything else untangled and Vitt was the man in that position.
None of what Hargrove alleges will change the fact that these players know Vitt and, from what it sounds like, respect him.
May 22 will just confirm the notion that he’s in charge.
Certainly he’ll be missed during his six-game ban from the NFL for his role in the bounty scandal, which could be a problem.
But that won’t mean the players don’t believe in Vitt and that he can’t lead the team.
There’s enough talent around that he just has to keep a watch of the pot, making sure it doesn’t boil over.
That shouldn’t be hard.
Vitt has been coaching in the NFL since 1979. He has been an interim coach before (in 2005), leading the St. Louis Rams through a difficult period. And he has been with the Saints since 2006, coming to New Orleans when few others would.
Meanwhile, Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis have known each other since the early 1980s, when both worked in Seattle. They understand each other and know what moves work best for each other.
Pardon the expression, especially considering why he and the Saints are in trouble with the NFL to begin with, but he has enough skins on the wall to grab the attention of even the most inattentive on the Saints roster.
And Vitt won’t be going at this alone. He’ll have Pete Carmichael Jr. running the NFL’s best offense (assuming Brees is back under contract) along with Steve Spagnuolo, a former head coach, on staff.
So forget that Hargrove implicated him in a big and bad way in his declaration to the NFL.
The Saints under Vitt should be just fine.