Ryan reportedly in mix for Saints’ opening

With Super Bowl XLVII and all the festivities surrounding the weeklong event over with, the search for the next New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator appears to be heating up.

There were conflicting reports Tuesday night, however, on what coach Sean Payton’s next step will be after firing Steve Spagnuolo on Jan. 24, just one day after Payton returned from a season-long bounty suspension.

According to an ESPN.com report, Payton will hire former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. But another report had Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Ryan interviewing Thursday and Friday.

Both reports cited league sources.

Payton has five openings on his staff, but the most important one is for a defensive coordinator to come in and head up the switch to a 3-4 defense from the 4-3 front that Payton has used since he arrived in 2006.

Gil Brandt of NFL.com reported earlier Tuesday that Romeo Crennel and Ryan were the top candidates to replace Spagnuolo, who was dismissed after his defense allowed an NFL record 7,042 yards in his only season on the job.

After firing Spagnuolo, Payton said he would take his time to find the right person for the job after the Saints finished last in total yards allowed (440.1 yards per game) and rushing defense (147.6) and were 31st against the pass (292.6) and in scoring defense (28.4 points per game).

Ryan was fired by the Cowboys on Jan. 8 after they finished 14th and 19th, respectively, in total defense in his two seasons there. Ryan was expected to take the St. Louis Rams’ defensive coordinator position, but decided to pass because coach Jeff Fisher favors a 4-3 front.

Grantham has been the defensive coordinator at Georgia for the past three seasons after spending time in the NFL with the Cowboys, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.

Crennel, who won three Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots, was fired as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of last season.

With the NFL Scouting Combine starting on Feb. 20, Payton obviously would like to get his new defensive chief on board well before then.

But Payton will have more work to do as he must hire an offensive line coach and secondary coach as well as defensive line assistant and special teams assistant.

Offensive line coach/running game coordinator Aaron Kromer left to become the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator and secondary coach Ken Flajole was fired with Spagnuolo.

Special teams assistant Mike Mallory left to become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ special teams coordinator and defensive line assistant Travis Jones was hired to be the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive line coach.