By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Journalist
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New New Orleans Saints head coach Dennis Allen says he’s “at peace” being constantly measured against the person he’s replacing.
Allen’s first head coaching job with the Oakland Raiders nearly a decade ago taught him that he had more pressing matters to deal with than how he compares to Sean Payton, who has resigned two weeks ago as the Saints’ all-time leader in wins, not to mention the only Super Bowl-winning coach in the club’s 55 seasons.
“Look, I understand what the expectations are here,” Allen, a longtime Payton aide, said during his introductory press conference on Tuesday.
“I see it as: what a great example to follow,” Allen added. “I know we have a great foundation in place and I’m grateful for that.
“It’s the perfect fit because I know the people here,” he said. “I know the administration. I know the players. I know the support staff. I understand the whole culture here in this building.
When Allen became the head coach of the Raiders, the franchise had a first-year general manager and owner in Mark Davis who was in his first year succeeding his late Hall of Fame father, Al Davis. The team was rebuilding, experience was lacking and losses were mounting rapidly before Allen was fired four games into his third season.
“It was a totally different set of circumstances,” Allen, 49, recalled. “I was a 39-year-old head coach at the time.
“I’m excited about this organization,” Allen continued, referring to the Saints. “I love this organization. I’ve been on it for 12 of the last 16 years.
Allen was on Payton’s first team in 2006 as a defensive assistant. His first stint lasted until 2010, a stretch that included a Super Bowl title in the 2009 season. Allen left New Orleans in 2011 to become Denver’s defensive coordinator before taking the Raiders job one season later.
He was back with the Saints in 2015 as a senior assistant and was named defensive coordinator later that season when Payton fired Rob Ryan.
Over the past two seasons, Allen’s defenses have ranked among the top seven in the NFL. The Saints didn’t want to lose him, so he was always going to be a favorite to fill the head coaching opening with the team he helped win four straight NFC South titles from 2017-2020.
“It wasn’t a broken job,” Allen claimed. “There is a foundation and a culture of winning that has already been built.
“I want to try and continue that winning tradition,” Allen added. “I don’t see it as something where we have to have a ton of changes.”
At the same time, Allen spoke about the importance of being himself and putting his “own twist” on things.
“I look at it more like this: I want to take lessons that I’ve learned, I want to build on those lessons and create my own legacy here,” Allen said.
General manager Mickey Loomis said the Saints, who also interviewed a handful of outside candidates, promoted Allen “because of his leadership skills, because of his teaching skills, because of his keen football sense – and , frankly, he’s just a damn good football manager.
“We interviewed him for six hours last week, but the truth is, we’ve interviewed him for 12 of the last 16 years,” Loomis added.
Allen declined to go into detail about his vision for the club’s volatile quarterback position.
“We want a winner. Just a winner – a guy who has a tireless work ethic,” Allen said. “It’s definitely something we need to understand.”
Allen also shared few of his plans for the coaching staff, but hinted to save a good chunk of it.
“We have talented staff and I love a lot of the things we’ve done,” Allen said.
Allen added that he expects to be heavily involved in personnel decisions, as well as planning games on the defensive side, and possibly even calling defensive plays during games as he has. made over the last half-decade.
“It’s hard to turn your baby over,” Allen said.
The Saints went 9-8 last season and narrowly missed the playoffs, despite a slew of injuries, including season-opening starting quarterback Jameis Winston.
The club’s defense has often carried the team, notably in a 9-0 victory at Tampa Bay. The biggest challenges next season could be on offense – and not just at quarterback. Uncertainty is now swirling around the Saints’ top star, running back Alvin Kamara, after he was arrested in Las Vegas on felony charges stemming from a nightclub brawl.
Kamara could face protracted legal issues and suspension. But Allen said it was premature for him to address this issue in detail.
“We need to gather all the information before commenting on this,” Allen said.
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