SPORTS WATCH | Winless Saints Prove Loss of Head Coach Is Devastating
by Gus Jarvis
Oct 04, 2012 | 1350 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print

I now understand how important real professional National Football League referees are to the game. Replacements don’t work, and now that the referee lockout is now over, we know they are worth every penny they earn.

We’re also learning just how important head coaches are to the game – and to their teams. And while it’s probably no surprise to many, we now know for sure head coaches aren’t just there to look cool on the sidelines. A good head coach is as important if not more important than any player on a football team.

I know what you are thinking here. This isn’t a new concept. We’ve all known that the head football coach is the leader and the face of the squad. When a team wins the Super Bowl, the head coach will more than likely be considered the genius of the team for putting all the right pieces together at the right time. If a team only wins one or two games in a season, it was that head coach’s leadership that failed – and usually he will be the first to lose his job.

But although this all is s common knowledge, many of us still wondered what was going to happen when the New Orleans Saints went into this season without leading man Sean Payton, suspended by the league for an entire season for his role in the whole bounty-gate fiasco. To me, it seemed like Payton, in his previous successful seasons down in the Big Easy, had laid the groundwork for the Saints to continue their success.

The pieces of the puzzle were already in place, and even though Payton wouldn’t be on the sidelines coaching, the Saints still had a pretty damn good shot at making another run at an NFC Championship. With Drew Brees behind center, putting your money on the Saints seemed like a good bet this year, even without Payton.

Well, after an exciting finish to last week’s game against the Packers, the Saints now find themselves at 0-4 on the year – and joining the Cleveland Browns as the only two winless teams in the NFL.

As The New York Times’ Judy Battista reported this week, the Saints are losing more than they imagined when Payton was sent to the couch for a year. When Payton is coaching, he’s an aggressive play caller. Interim coach Joe Vitt embodies that same philosophy, but he’s been suspended – for six games – as well. So the aggressive play calling is gone.

While Vitt is gone, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer must now play two roles: Head coach and offensive line coach. That puts a strain on the team. And while he is playing double duty, Brees is playing triple duty by playing quarterback, basically running the offensive scheme and then, finally, being the voice of the team. The bottom line is that in losing their head coach, a domino effect has hit the Saints, and it’s too much to handle – especially in a league as competitive as the NFL.

“It’s impossible to go through what they have gone through, to lose the people they have lost for the entire season or for periods of time, and not have this kind of thing occur,” Indianapolis Colts former President Bill Polian told The Times. “It puts too much strain on the organization, too much strain on the coaching staff, an impossible strain on Drew. No club could sustain what they have gone through.”

Polian went on to say that he thought most people underestimated the full impact of the loss of a head coach, even on a team like the Saints that’s full of veterans – and has a quarterback like Brees. Most of all, he said, the Saints are suffering the most because they are missing the mindset of Payton, and the aggressive football culture he has created.

Not that I am any sort of diehard Saints fan, but I do feel for the team right now. It’s not like they’ve been blown out in each of the games they’ve lost, so far. You can see there is a championship-caliber team there, but they aren’t able to close out a game. They need that extra push from a leader, and right now they are leaderless.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed Payton his suspension, I don’t think anyone thought it was going to affect the team as much as it has so far this season. Another couple of losses and this team’s season will be a complete bust, and if I were a true Saints fan, with season tickets, I would be throwing a fit in Goodell’s direction right now.

Goodell’s year-long suspension of Payton went way too far, and the four straight losses prove it. Instead of putting a paper bag over my face in New Orleans, I would simply ask for my money back. Without Payton on the sidelines, the NFL isn’t providing what I paid for. I can’t imagine the anger and frustration the Saints’ faithful are feeling right now.

On a serious note, the Colts will be without their head coach Chuck Pagano, who was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia last week. According to various reports, Pagano will soon begin treatment and will be hospitalized for six to eight weeks and is not expected to return as head coach until next season. Pagano will be replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

Of course this news is devastating to the entire organization and to Indy fans. Losing their first-year coach during a rebuilding process with first-round draft pick Andrew Luck is going to stunt that process badly.

At the same time, it makes me wonder if this will galvanize the team to work harder for wins. We’ve seen what the loss of a coach can do to a team built like the Saints. Perhaps for the Colts, the opposite will occur, and the team will fight harder to win for a coach who’s in a fight for his life.

And that would truly prove how important the head coach is to a team.

Twitter: @gusgusj

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