Sixteen years ago, when Dennis Allen joined the New Orleans Saints, he did so reluctantly.
The 33-year-old, who would turn 34 during the 2006 regular season, had been a defensive assistant for the Falcons and, quite likely, wasn't awed about joining a franchise that had a new, first-time head coach (Sean Payton) and, along with its city, had been wobbled by Hurricane Katrina.
"Sean brought me here with his first staff in 2006," Allen said Tuesday afternoon. "I was a little lowly assistant in Atlanta – kind of went kind of kicking and screaming a little bit, but I came.
"And it was the greatest thing, from a professional standpoint – it was the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. And I've learned so many lessons here being a part of his staff and really getting a chance to watch him up close and personal."
The lessons learned have resulted in the ultimate promotion: Allen officially was named head coach of the Saints on Tuesday, the 17th in franchise history (including interim coaches).
"We selected Dennis Allen, and we selected him because of his leadership skills, because of his teaching skills, because of his football acumen, and frankly he's just a damned good football coach," said Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis, who spearheaded the interview process. Payton stepped down as head coach on Jan. 25 after 16 years with the organization.
"We interviewed (Allen) for six hours last week, but the truth is we've been interviewing him for 12 of the last 16 years," Loomis said. "We hated it when he left in 2011 (to become defensive coordinator for the Broncos, and later head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 2012-14), and we couldn't have been more excited than when he returned to us in 2015.
"He has been instrumental in all of the success that we've had over the last 16 years."
Allen's journey to the top rung of the Saints' coaching ladder included stints as assistant defensive line coach (2006-07), secondary coach (2008-10), senior defensive assistant (2015) and defensive coordinator (2015-21).
He said that experience made him uniquely qualified.
"I felt like I was the best guy for the job," he said. "I felt like my knowledge of this organization, my knowledge of this team, and just the fact that – I think I closed out (the interview with committee) saying that I don't know how you thought I did in a six-and-a-half hour interview, but I've been interviewing for 12 of the last 16 years. And I felt like my body of work here in New Orleans more than qualified me for this job."
Allen called it a perfect union.
"It's the perfect fit because I know the people here, I know the administration here, I know the players here, I know the support staff here, I know the coaches here," he said. "I understand all the culture that's here in this building. And so, there's a comfortableness to making this move.
"I just think if I could have laid at home at night and dreamt about where would be the one place that I would want to be the head coach, it would be the head coach of the New Orleans Saints."
Allen's three previous seasons as a head coach, with the Raiders, also proved valuable, he said. Oakland was 8-24 during his tenure.
Check out behind-the-scenes photos of Dennis Allen on his first day as the New Orleans Saints head coach at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
"There's a lot of things that you learn," he said. "I would say this about the previous experience, that it was a totally different set of circumstances. I was a 39-year-old head coach at that point in time. There was just different circumstances with that experience.
"Way more experienced. Way more experienced. Seen a lot different things, had a lot of opportunities to lead a lot of men. When I went to Oakland, I was a one-year coordinator (with Denver) and got an opportunity to go be a head coach. And so, now I've been back here basically in a coordinators role in New Orleans for six-and-a-half years and getting a chance to watch how Sean operates. I've just seen a lot more, been through a lot more, experienced a lot more, been through a lot of winning since that time. It just comes with the territory. The more you do something, the better you get at it."
And Allen said he understands the expectation that he'll need to be good at it. Payton, the all-time winningest coach in franchise history (161-97 including playoffs in 15 years coaching), led the franchise to its lone Super Bowl victory and all three of its appearances in the NFC Championship Game.
"I understand what the expectations are here," Allen said. "But those are the expectations in our league. I look at it as, what a great example to follow.
"I think you learn from the experience of watching Sean. But at the end of the day, one thing I do know is when you get put in a position like this, you have to do it your way and you have to be yourself. I'm going to come to work every day and I'm going to be me, and I'm going to put my own little spin on it. But yet, there's a lot of things that we've done really, really well here and I want to be able to continue those things and I just want to be able put my little spin on it.
"I want to take the lessons that I've learned, I want to build upon those lessons and I want to create my own legacy here with the New Orleans Saints. I know this is a job that you have to do with your own personality, and that's the way I plan on attacking it."
CITY ENERGY: Allen said he wants the Saints to feed off the energy they receive from New Orleans. "The city of New Orleans is one of the more passionate and energetic cities in all of the world. I love this fan base. I want our team to mirror this fan base. I want our team to have the same passion and energy that this fan base has. I can tell you this: Our team is going to be tough, our team is going to be smart, and our team is going to be highly competitive. And we're going to play with a passion and an energy that our opponents are either unwilling, or unable to match. And that's what the New Orleans Saints are going to be about."
FIT THE PROFILE: The new coach said he'd be looking for specific characteristics in whomever the next starting quarterback will be. New Orleans was forced to use four starters – Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and Ian Book – last season. Winston, who tore his ACL while helping the Saints to a 5-2 record as a starter, is an unrestricted free agent. "I think it's the most important decision that you make," Allen said. "That's going to be one of the first things that we do, is get together as a staff, as an organization, and evaluate that position. And then we'll make the best decision for this organization.
"We want a winner. A guy that's got tireless work ethic, a guy that can help lead men. That's what I see in the quarterback position. But that's certainly something we've got to figure out."
EARLY GOALS: Allen said he has wanted to be a coach since he was in the seventh grade. "I think coaches have had a tremendous influence on my life, from my Dad coaching all of my Little League teams, to junior high coaches and high school," he said. "And really, when I was in high school I wanted to be a high school coach when I grew up. I had a chance to go play college ball, I wanted to be a college coach. Didn't really have any ambition to be in the NFL, and (Texas A&M coach) R.C. Slocum told me one day, 'You get your tail to the National Football League as fast as you can.' I did exactly what he told me to do. I just wanted to coach football, work really hard and do my job. And I think when you do those things, good things happen."
RELUCTANT TWO-STEP: While Allen's predecessor was known to bust a move during the locker room victory celebrations – Payton inspired a song, "Do The Sean Payton," after one session – Allen said he might be a little less willing to join the fray from that standpoint. "My family can attest I'm not the greatest dancer," he said, laughing. "I'm a little bit more of a wallflower than I am a dancer."