Ryan was Payton's fourth defensive coordinator in six years, following Gary Gibbs (2006-08), Williams (2009-11) and the one-year experiment with Spagnuolo in 2012. Firing Ryan would mean starting from scratch again. It would also fuel the perception Payton couldn't keep a defensive coordinator.Is what the organization source says credible, though? The day Payton hired Dennis Allen and named him a sort of co-coordinator with Ryan, it certainly seemed like he was already planning a move. Even as the Saints opened training camp, fans and media were already making guesses as to how many games Ryan would survive. And while it seems natural for the Saints to make a change like this during the bye week, the fact that things worked out just so they could time it this way seems premeditated.
"The only reason why Sean kept him was because Sean didn't want to look like he was firing three defensive coordinators in four years. And that's the only reason," said one of Ryan's former players with the Saints.
A source in the organization with knowledge of Payton's thinking called that insinuation "crazy."
Despite the defense's dip in production in 2014, Payton believed Ryan would be able to bounce back and wanted to give him that opportunity, albeit with changes involved.
"In the end, the opposite happened. It became even worse," the source said.
Furthermore, there's a lot in this article that indicates Payton had already undermined Ryan's defensive strategy himself.
Looking for a new sense of direction for his team in the 2015 offseason, Payton visited his mentor, Bill Parcells, in Florida to pick his brain. Parcells' advice: Get better defensive players and further simplify the scheme.Bill, how do I fix my defense?
Intent on not repeating the disappointing 2014 campaign, Payton went to work. He traded star tight end Jimmy Graham, promising wide receiver Kenny Stills and veteran offensive guard Ben Grubbs for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a parcel of draft picks, most of which were used to select defenders. He cut the team's best pass rusher, Junior Galette, to send a message to the rest of the roster about buying into the plan.
Payton, tired of communication errors that he viewed as fixable, stripped the defense down to the studs. He looked at defenses in the mold of the Patriots' single-high safety scheme, something that Ryan, a former assistant on Bill Belichick's staff in New England, had run at times in Oakland.
"We had to look at, hey ... we've got to find a way to reduce the variation on defense and we've got to find a way to get a call in and play a defense without it being a panic or guys are late getting lined up," Payton said Wednesday. "That was a big thing a year ago. Again, a lot of that is the ability to communicate quickly what we're seeing, what we want to get done, make the call. Too many times, look, the first opportunity to play good defense is to be set and ready and know what the call is."
Whereas Ryan might have once had the option of 40 calls, he was given less than 10, said multiple sources with knowledge of the Saints' defensive game plans.
"They weren't running Rob's defense anymore," said a former Saints player.
Get better players.
Not that that's wrong, exactly. But in the NFL the difference between good and elite talent is slim enough. "Get better players," really only makes sense as a prescription (or excuse) when you're talking about quarterbacks. Otherwise, the successful coach will recognize his roster's strengths and weaknesses and adjust his scheme to fit what those players do well. Which is what Ryan did in 2013 even after losing several key players to injury. After that, Sean wanted to be more like New England and so Rob became more and more irrelevant.
But in some ways, a former Saints player said, Ryan felt like he already had been stripped of some of his control, beginning in 2014.Given that Payton's hand was so heavily involved in shaping the defensive scheme, this bit from him where he totally throws Ryan under the bus is especially dickish.
"In 2013 ... the defense was ballin'," the former Saints defender said. "And we get back the next year and Sean has his hand in it, trying to call defenses and doing stuff that we don't really do. ... It really messed up how we played."
The player added: "Rob needs a little discipline, but at the same time, I think Sean and (assistant coach/linebackers) Joe Vitt had their hands entirely too much in how the defense was ran."
"There were a few things that you looked at from a year ago and you said, 'We can't have X number of snaps with not the right number of guys on the field. We can't burn timeouts, you know, every other week because we can't get the right personnel on the field.' We just can't do that," Payton said Wednesday. "We can't have guys looking left and right at the snap of the ball. There's a game last season where the first eight plays of the game, we're misaligned and we don't even cover down the right way. Those were just facts."Sounds like they don't know what they're doing. But it also sounds like a lot of that is Sean Payton's fault. Furthermore, this part where Payton insists that he hadn't set up Ryan to fail this season sounds like complete bullshit.
Payton countered Wednesday that he never brought in Allen with the intention of replacing Ryan. He would have done that in the offseason if that were the case.Would he have, though? Think back to the beginning of the year. The Saints were so unprepared to begin the 2015 season that we were convinced they'd decided in advance to blow it off altogether in prep for 2016. Part of that prep involved engineering a convenient excuse to who Rob Ryan the door and start over. And now they've executed that contingency. And now Dennis Allen gets to spend the rest of the season evaluating the roster to see what he would like to do with it next year.
"You wouldn't approach the season with 'I need a contingency plan.' If that were the case, then you'd execute the contingency plan to begin with," Payton said. "If I knew that was going to happen, we would have just done it in the offseason."
2015 for the Saints has been one long preseason. There are still six fake games left.