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New Orleans Saints Coach Dennis Allen sought familiarity, effectiveness in coaches to fill out staff

'I wanted guys that I knew exactly what I was getting'


The combination of familiarity and effectiveness played prominent roles as New Orleans Saints Coach Dennis Allen looked to restock his staff after five changes were made this offseason.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods, defensive line coach Todd Grantham, secondary coach Marcus Robertson, tight ends coach Clancy Barone and assistant offensive line coach Kevin Carberry are the Saints' newest additions, replacing co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen, co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Kris Richard, tight ends coach Dan Roushar and assistant offensive line coach Zach Strief.

"The No. 1 thing was, as I was looking to make some changes on the staff, I wanted guys that I knew exactly what I was getting," Allen said. "I had familiarity with these coaches, and they're all really good coaches.

"Joe Woods was a guy that I hired in Oakland (in 2014), him and Marcus Robertson (also in 2014) both as secondary coaches. They both worked together for me in Oakland. When you look at their resume, over the course of their resume they've had a ton of success. I believe Joe was there in Denver when they won Super Bowl 50 (in 2015). You look at the success that they had defensively there when Joe was the coordinator and Marcus was the secondary coach (in 2017-18), they had a lot of success.

"Clancy Barone is a guy that has averaged 10 wins throughout his career. I wanted to hire guys that were accustomed to winning and have performed at the highest levels in our league.

"And Todd Grantham is a guy that had a defensive line background, but yet he has been a coordinator at a high level at a lot of (Southeastern Conference) schools, so there's an aspect of not just D-line play, but schematics that come along with that. He has been a big part of dealing with a lot of the RPO (run-pass option) systems that you see in college that have now made their way into the National Football League. That was something that I wanted to be able to tap into with him."

Woods is a 31-year coaching veteran, the last 19 in the NFL and the last six as a defensive coordinator. Grantham is entering his 33rd year as a coach, including 11 in the NFL. Robertson has coached defensive backs in the NFL for the last 15 seasons, and Barone has 17 years of college coaching experience to precede his 17 years in the NFL.

Allen said the staff changes were difficult, but necessary. Nielsen departed to become defensive coordinator for the Falcons, and Richard and Roushar were relieved of their duties.

"It's hard," Allen said. "You're dealing with people, but yet we all understand that this is a business, so sometimes you have to make tough decisions. Some moves were moves that we made, some moves were moves that, in Ryan's situation, he had a chance for advancement.

"Change is always hard but change can also be positive because you bring in some new ideas, new thoughts and a new kind of enthusiasm for wanting to try to get this program back to where it needs to be.

The New Orleans Saints hired five new coaches for the 2023 season. The new hires are Joe Woods (defensive coordinator), Clancy Barone (tight ends coach), Marcus Robertson (secondary coach), Todd Grantham (defensive line coach), and Kevin Carberry (assistant offensive line coach).

"I think each one of them is different. Ryan was a guy that over the past three or four years had some opportunities for advancement. We did some things here to try to keep him, and I would have liked to have kept him, but I knew that that's what he really wanted to do. He wanted to be a coordinator in this league, he wants to go on and have an opportunity to be a head coach and ultimately, I didn't want to stand in his way from being able to do that."

New Orleans finished 7-10 last season, and Allen said he understands there are watchful eyes and critiques, but each offseason decision carefully has been made for the betterment of the organization.

"Certainly, not everybody is going to agree with whatever those decisions are, but you make the decision that you think is best and then you move forward with the plan and try to work to get better," he said. "That's really where we're at right now.

"We're in the race to get better. That race never ends. There's no finish line to that race, but I'm comfortable with where we're at and what we're doing and where I'm at in terms of being the head coach. I'm excited about moving forward and getting with this group of coaches and doing what we can to help our players be as good as they possibly can be."

PAYTON PICKS: Allen said he was pleased that the Saints were able to acquire two draft picks, No. 29 overall in 2023 and a second-round pick in 2024, from Denver in the trade for former Saints coach Sean Payton and the Saints' third-round pick in 2024. Payton coached the Saints from 2006-21 before stepping down with two years remaining on his contract.

"That was big," Allen said. "It was big, the fact that we were able to basically acquire a first- and a second-round pick for an asset that was not in our building.

"We knew Sean was going to want to coach at some point in time, and that coaching job was going to be somewhere other than New Orleans. And so, for us to be able to get some compensation for that, I think was big for our organization. If you go in and you ask (Assistant General Manager and College Scouting Director) Jeff Ireland or any of the college scouts, they were excited when the news came across that we were going to be looking for somebody in the first round this year."

STRONG FINISH: The Saints won three of their final four games to finish the season and defensively, allowed 13.5 points per game over the final six. Those are blocks Allen hopes the team can build on.

"Toward the end of the season, winning three out of our last four, and beating the team (Philadelphia) that just participated in the Super Bowl, I felt like we built a little bit of momentum. I felt we ran the ball a little bit better toward the end of the year, and we played better defense toward the end of the year.

"I just want to see us continue to develop that right mind-set, that winning attitude, that competitiveness that we've always had here. When you go back and you look at the season, you'd say, 'Where are the things that we need to improve?' We need to protect the ball better, and we need to take the ball away more. I think it's really as simple as that, and you go from kind of one of the teams that's in the middle of the pack, which is where we finished, to hopefully one of those teams that's fighting for a spot in the tournament."

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