Stable Saints could be a fertile ground for teams looking to fill top leadership positions | Saints

It is hiring season in the NFL, the time of year when those teams in flux start posting the names and headshots of other organizations’ brightest minds to their social media accounts.

Eight teams (as of now) are seeking a new head coach and three a new general manager, trying to find the right people to take their franchise to places the previous regime could not reach.

Friday, the Chicago Bears — one of three teams needing to hire a new head coach and a new general manager, along with the Giants and Vikings — announced it had completed an interview with Jeff Ireland, one of the New Orleans Saints personnel executives.

And why wouldn’t the Bears try to pull from New Orleans? The Saints have been one of the most stable franchises in professional sports in terms of keeping their decision-making apparatus intact.

Sean Payton is the NFL’s second-longest tenured head coach, having been in place since 2006. His offensive coordinator has been at his side since the start, his defensive coordinator just wrapped up his seventh season in that role and the majority of his assistants have been on the staff for at least five seasons.

Mickey Loomis has presided over the whole thing as general manager since 2002, and his lieutenants have been alongside him for a long time. The Saints’ top salary cap mind, Khai Harley, is entering his 15th year with the organization, their college scouting director just wrapped up his seventh year, and even though their pro personnel director just wrapped up his first season in that role, he’s been with the organization since 2012.

That group has enjoyed a lot of success together. But eventually the Saints’ sustained winning will lead to those important minds getting their own larger opportunities, right?

“When you’re a good team and you have a well-run organization, people want to pick people from those well-run organizations,” said Ireland in a recent interview with WWL-AM “… This is probably one of the best run organizations I’ve ever worked for. I’ve worked for four. It’s just kind of the nature of the beast.”

After losing a couple coaches and an important front office member after the 2020 season, are more departures on the way? Maybe, and maybe not.

Start with Ireland, the Saints college scouting director.

The hay, Jeff Ireland said in his slight Texas accent, is mostly in the barn. 

Ireland interviewed with the Bears via Zoom teleconference earlier this week. He already has a personal connection to the organization — his grandfather, Jim Parmer, was a longtime Bears scout, and Ireland has fond memories of serving as a ball boy for the Bears during their excellent 1980s run.

Before he came to New Orleans, Ireland spent six seasons as the Miami Dolphins general manager. This is the second straight season Ireland has interviewed for an open general manager position — last season he interviewed with the Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions.

“It’s exciting to have the opportunity to sit in that seat, it takes a lot of responsibility and it’s a big job,” said Ireland in a recent interview with WWL-AM. “So I’ll be doing some prepping this week to get ready for that job as my roles here inside the (Saints) building will stay intact as well.”

The New Orleans Saints finished their turbulent season at 9-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. It was an emotionally dra…

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Ireland has played a key role in the organization’s recent successes. He was a central figure in the team’s foundational 2017 draft, and while not every draft has been such a smashing success, the Saints have drafted impact players in prior and subsequent years under Ireland’s purview, including receiver Michael Thomas, center Erik McCoy and defensive backs C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Paulson Adebo.

He could be the second personnel executive the Saints lose in as many seasons, after the Atlanta Falcons hired former Saints pro personnel director Terry Fontenot away last season to be their general manager.

Quick, before reading, do a Google image search for Khai Harley and see what comes up.

So far, Harley has not interviewed for any of the three vacant general manager positions, though it would not be a surprise to see his name surface as a candidate — if not this year, then in the years to come.

Harley has developed a reputation as the Saints “cap guru” because of his impressive manipulations of the salary cap in recent years. He was one of the chief reasons the Saints  fielded a competitive roster despite having to create more than $100 million in cap space last season just to be compliant. New Orleans is consistently on the league’s cutting edge when it comes to creative salary cap maneuvering.

That said, Harley is more than an accomplished accountant. As he has spent more time with the organization, he has taken on a larger role in the construction of the roster itself.

Two New Orleans Saints players were named to the Associated Press’ All-Pro teams, while two other Saints received votes, the news organization…

“That’s become sort of the vernacular. It sort of comes with the job,” Harley said to WWL-AM about the cap guru moniker. “… If anything what it does is it gives people an idea of what I do, but also it gives the perception that’s the only thing I do.”

As of the moment, none of the Saints’ assistant coaches have an interview lined up for one of the eight open head coach jobs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their staff will remain intact heading into next year.

Last offseason, the Saints lost three assistant coaches to promotions elsewhere, and only one — former Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell — took a head coach position. Campbell lured defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn to be his defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions (Glenn has interviewed for a head coach position already this offseason), and quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi left for the Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator position.

It’s surprising defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has not generated more interest this cycle.

New Orleans ranked in the top five in scoring defense for the second straight year and has ranked in the NFL’s upper third in total defense each of the last three seasons. Allen also filled in as the head coach on a moment’s notice when Payton tested positive for COVID-19, and guided the Saints to a 9-0 shutout win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road.

Allen struggled his first time around as a head coach, with the then-Oakland Raiders going 8-28 in his two-plus seasons there. But a failed first tenure does not mean much. Just this offseason, several teams have interviewed coaches for head coaching positions who were fired at a previous stop, including Bill O’Brien, Doug Pedersen, Raheem Morris and Leslie Frazier.

For now, it appears the Saints could escape a major shakeup in their front office and coaching staff, but that could change. Stable organizations have a way of drawing the less stable ones looking for the recipe to the secret sauce.

The New Orleans Saints finished their turbulent season at 9-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. It was an emotionally dra…

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