Every game that Dennis Allen has coached with the New Orleans Saints – as assistant defensive line coach in 2006-07, secondary coach from 2008-10, senior defensive assistant in 2015 and defensive coordinator since 2015 – Sean Payton has been on the sideline as head coach.
That won't be the case Sunday night, when the Saints (6-7) play Tampa Bay (10-3) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Payton on Friday tested positive for Covid-19 and immediately was isolated. Per NFL protocols, he'll be out 10 days unless he meets the league requirements for a fully vaccinated individual to return to the team environment.
In his absence, Allen will assume the duties of head coach for Sunday. Entering the weekend, the Saints are 11th in scoring defense (21.9 points per game), sixth in run defense (95 yards per game) and 11th in total defense (339.5 yards per game allowed).
"It'll be really odd," Allen said Friday afternoon. "Sean's our leader and he's the guy that has been running the show around here. And so, it'll be a lot different. It'll be a big challenge without him being there.
"But the real deal is, he's prepared all of us for how we have to play the game. We know what's expected of us – every single one of us. Every coach, every player, everybody on staff knows exactly what's expected of us, and our job is to go out there Sunday and perform. And that's what we plan on doing."
Allen previously has been a head coach in the NFL, for three years with the Raiders (2012-14). He said that stint will be beneficial as New Orleans prepares to face the reigning Super Bowl champions while facing the possibility that more positive tests could weaken the staff and roster.
"I think certainly having some head coaching experience helps in situations like these," he said. "Obviously, whenever you're in a deal like this it's not an ideal situation, but I'm excited about the opportunity to go out there and perform on Sunday night. I think our guys are excited about it.
"In terms of do I expect any other coaches (to test positive)? That's the environment that we're in right now, so you always have to be prepared for anything that could come up. Hopefully we don't have to deal with that but if we do, then we'll have to adjust."
Allen said the staff found out Friday morning about Payton's positive test. The delineation of responsibilities pretty much will remain the same, with one addition.
"Rizz (special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi) will handle the special teams and (offensive coordinator) Pete (Carmichael) will handle calling the plays on offense," Allen said. "I'll handle calling the plays on defense.
"What gets added is a little bit more of the game management situations. We've handled that situation and communicated in those situations before, so certainly with myself, with Pete, with Rizz, with (assistant head coach/defensive line) Ryan Nielsen, we'll handle all those game management situations together. But I guess ultimately, that falls on me in terms of how we're going to manage the game."
Running back Mark Ingram II, who returned to practice Friday after missing the last game due to his placement on the Reserve/Covid-19 list, said players and coaches know what to expect.
"Any time you lose your head guy – he's your leader of the team, it's the guy who leads our ship – it's obviously different not having him out there," Ingram said. "But we have coaches who step up and have done this numerous times before.
"Pete always does a great job of preparing, installing, calling plays, getting people lined up. And he's done this before. I remember many, many years ago (in 2011) when Sean was hurt and Pete stepped in and called plays, our offense was still successful. Put up a lot of points, put up a lot of yards, made a lot of big plays (in a 62-7 victory over Indianapolis).
"So he just steps into that role right away on the offense, and many other coaches and players help pick up that slack. We pick each other up, we support each other and we have each other's back."
Ingram said because of the Saints' program, how to carry on is understood.
"We know what the standard is," he said. "Coach Payton has set the standard for us and we go out there and try to execute the standard at a high level, regardless of who's out there. We take pride in that.
"He set the standard. We know what the standard is. We don't compromise the standard regardless of whatever the situation is. We have a lot of great guys, a lot of great coaches, a lot of great players and we're just looking forward to the challenge."