Pete Carmichael Jr. knows play-calling. That’s not one of his jobs this season as the Saints offensive coordinator, though, and he’s fine with that.
Carmichael dialed up the plays the Saints ran for most of 2011, after coach Sean Payton suffered a leg injury on the sideline, and for all of 2012, when Payton was suspended for the season in the wake of the bounty scandal. But Payton is back, and he has given himself the role of play caller.
Asked during the first week of training camp for his thoughts on that development, Carmichael portrayed it as good news: It meant his boss and Drew Brees, the Saints’ former Super Bowl MVP quarterback, are working together again.
“To be around Sean Payton and Drew Brees is the greatest thing a coach could ask for,” said Carmichael, 41, who is entering his 14th season coaching in the NFL. “It’s special because it’s an opportunity now to watch and grow and learn and see Sean — the best in the business, and the same thing with Drew. ... It’s awesome.”
Still, Carmichael’s offenses have shown they can gash opponents at a league-leading, if not historic, pace.
In the first six weeks of 2011, with Payton calling the plays, the offense averaged 452.2 yards. But when Payton broke his leg in Week 6 at Tampa Bay, Carmichael took over as play-caller for the final 10 games of the regular season.
The offense got even more dangerous, averaging 476.1 yards in that stretch before losing on the road to San Francisco in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Saints set NFL records that year in net yardage, passing yardage, first downs and third-down conversions, among other categories.
Last season, Carmichael guided an offense that averaged 410.9 yards, best in the NFC and second in the league. The Saints averaged 28.8 points — second in the conference and third in the NFL.
But the offense was complemented by a defense that surrendered the most yards in league history, and the team missed the playoffs at 7-9.
“Pete did a good job for us last year with the circumstances,” veteran Saints guard Jahri Evans said. “No team has ever (gone) through that — losing their head coach. He is a great coach. He is very knowledgeable.”
The defense’s struggles and Payton’s return led to the firing of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who was replaced by Rob Ryan (himself dismissed by Dallas). Carmichael interviewed for Chicago’s head coaching job, but the Bears hired Marc Trestman.
Jacksonville and Indianapolis extended interview invitations to Carmichael for their offensive coordinator vacancies, but he declined and opted to return to the Saints, whom he has coached since Payton arrived in 2006.
Running back Pierre Thomas said he believes any of those teams would have been fortunate to lure Carmichael away.
“He’s a coach who can lead any team,” he said. “They give him that head position spot, and I think he’ll be ... outstanding.”
Thomas added that Carmichael’s decision to remain with the Saints is an indication that the team is armed to recapture the Lombardi Trophy.
“To turn down good opportunities like that shows ... he believes in us,” Thomas said. “And he wants to be here when we make it all the way to the promised land.”
Indeed, Carmichael said he’s exactly where he wants to be, changed responsibilities and all.
“You couldn’t ask for a better situation than what I’m in,” he said. “My family loves it here, and this is a great place to be — great organization, great owner, great general manager, great head coach.”