Saints interim coach returns from six-game suspension
METAIRIE — After seven weeks of an NFL-enforced absence from football, Joe Vitt should have been well-rested.
The reinstated interim coach of the Saints pulled an all-nighter Sunday, getting himself back up to speed after retaking the reins of the team from Aaron Kromer on the flight home from their 35-28 victory at Tampa Bay.
“I’ve gone from department to department,” Vitt said as he met the media early Monday afternoon. “I have talked to every coach individually.
“I spent an hour and a half with (director of pro scouting) Ryan Pace; I met with (head trainer) Scottie Patton and the doctors; I spent about a half hour with Mr. (Saints owner Tom ) Benson and (team president) Dennis Lauscha. This process is going to continue for me to get caught up.”
That being done, Vitt, who drew a six-game suspension for his role in the bounty scandal, then turned his attention to Payton Manning and the Denver Broncos, whom the Saints meet Sunday night at Mile High Stadium.
Which, Vitt said, might be the easiest part of his day.
“I don’t think anybody has ever confused me for a rocket scientist,” he said. “I am going to take notes, see what the state of our football team is, meet with the staff and move forward.”
The state of the team, Vitt probably found, is about as good as can be expected for a group that’s 2-4, better than only one other team in the NFC, with the league’s worst defense.
But those two victories have come in the past two games with Sunday’s, as Vitt pointed out, on the road against a divisional opponent and after twice trailing by 14.
That’s priceless momentum.
And as for the defense — well, having Drew Brees means you can give up an average of 30.2 points and an NFL-record 465.5 yards per game and still have a fighting chance while working to make the unit better.
“We probably made just enough plays to win the game,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said Monday. “But we were most disappointed that we weren’t as a defense, after our offense did a tremendous job, able to close the game.”
Indeed, the final play came down to the Saints getting a favorable (and correct) call on Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams being pushed out-of-bounds by Patrick Robinson, making him an ineligible receiver for what would have been a game-tying touchdown catch as time expired.
But in the NFL, you take them any way you can and move on.
“The win this team had yesterday shows you the resolve and character of this team,” Vitt said. “I had nothing to do with that victory.
“This football team, its resolve, character, togetherness and accountability, continue to grow.”
A large part of the credit for that, Vitt added, goes to Kromer, who had the unique title of interim coach/offensive line coach/running game coach until Vitt boarded the team plane after flying to Tampa on his own earlier in the day.
“Aaron Kromer did a phenomenal job of keeping this team together during some tough times,” Vitt said. “You never know how the season is going to go, because every season takes a life of its own.
“Our hats are off to Aaron.”
At the same time, defensive end Cameron Jordan indicated the team might just need the Sean Paytonesque-fiery style of Vitt as opposed to Kromer’s laid-back demeanor.
“Coach Vitt has a unique style of coaching,” Jordan said. “You either learn to love it, or your have to take it anyway.”
However, Vitt pointed out, other than demeanor, things are pretty much in place where he left them, which was pretty much following the blueprint left by Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis, whose own suspension lasts through next week’s game against Philadelphia.
“Our program is set,” he said. “Our practice schedule is set.
“Our teaching progression remains the same, and our meeting schedule remains the same. I’m just a spoke on the wheel here.”
That kind of continuity, wide receiver Lance Moore said, is vital.
“You’re hearing from guys who have been here a number of years,” he said. “It’s not like they’re bringing some foreign guy in and he’s speaking a different language to us.
“Everything is going to remain the same. It’s just a different face, but the same message.”
That, Vitt said, was exactly the tone he was trying to set.
“We are going to go back to work on Wednesday and work out butts off to get better,” he said. “I am certainly not a miracle worker. I am humbled to be back here.”