<span style=""><span style="">Opening Statement:</span>
"A couple of things first on yesterday's injuries: Marques Colston had a left hand contusion, Terrance Copper had a mild concussion, Josh Bullocks hurt his left ankle on the touchdown play, Eric Johnson re-aggravated his right groin – not too bad, but enough to where it slowed him some – and then Aaron Stecker is still working through the soreness with his toe. Much of what I said yesterday after the game hasn't changed right now. It was disappointing for us to finish the season the way we did; I was disappointed in our loss yesterday for our players and coaches and everyone in the organization.
"We had high expectations heading into the season and we'll begin now the process of evaluating not only our own players, but then the upcoming players that will be available in free agency and doing everything possible to improve this team so that we're not sitting in this position at this time next year. The things that hurt us yesterday are the things that hurt us in some earlier games that we lost – that being the turnovers and big plays. We certainly didn't make enough of them and we gave up enough. We're going to have to get that cleaned up in the offseason and that's where our focus shifts now at this time of the year."
Do you think you threw the ball too much this year?
"We probably threw it more than I would have liked. Yesterday was a case where we had 80-something snaps. I think you're looking for that balance and each game takes on a different flow, depending on who you're playing. I thought we rushed the ball well yesterday with Pierre (Thomas). There was a point in the game where I felt like we had pretty good balance yesterday. But overall, (we threw) probably a little bit more than I would have liked to."
What do you consider a good amount of throws?
"There's not a given number. But just looking back, there were some games that by game plan specifically we wanted to go out and attack people by throwing it more than running it.
"There are a number of things that we have to look to do to improve our team. I think there are some areas that when you come away from the season and it's easy to point to certain statistics in a good or bad way, but we need to improve our defense – that's something that we'll look at hard in this offseason in regards to how we can help over there. We have some young players playing for us offensively that we've drafted and brought in via free agency and we have to continue to look to help that other side of the ball out. We've helped ourselves from a special teams standpoint with some of the core teams guys that we've brought in. We have to continue to look at improving our return game. And I think from a turnover standpoint, the thing that we need to get a hold of is correcting the deficit and not finishing in the red next year. That's something that starts with me and our staff and getting that coached up.
But certainly, I think it's imperative to have balance. It depends on each game your plan going in. I was real encouraged yesterday by what I saw yesterday in a young back – Pierre Thomas – I thought he played very well when we watched the tape. He did a real good job; he was physical against a pretty good run defense and I was real encouraged with his play."
Can you pinpoint what went wrong this season?
"Everyone is looking for something specific because you want to have a culprit; you want to have a villain. I think there are a number of things – if you start offensively, we didn't do a good enough job protecting the football; defensively we didn't do a good enough job of avoiding the big plays. There were too many big plays, both in the passing game and when you look yesterday at a simple check-down on 3rd-and-27 that gets a first down, those are plays – whether it's above our head or in front of us for the first down – that we weren't as good as we would have liked, obviously. I think our return game and the kicking game needs to improve. Our average kick return or punt return is not up to speed with where we would like it. Those are some specifics that I would start with and those are some of the areas that we'll begin addressing and working on."
When you talk about improving the defense, do you mean personnel?
"I'm talking about getting some more good young players to help on that side of the ball. If you look at where we're at and how we're built, it's an area where we feel like we can help ourselves and bring some young players or veteran players into that mix. I think it's an area that we want to upgrade and try to address and bring in guys that can help improve that side of the ball. Not to say that we don't want to do that on offense because we certainly do, but that's one of the things that we'll set out to do as we look into the offseason."
In terms of allowing the big plays, is that the scheme or is it players?
"We evaluate all of it. No one is washing their hands of the losses that we've had. We'll evaluate our personnel very thoroughly, we'll evaluate our scheme very thoroughly, and the key is making the right decisions and not making the rush to judgment decisions. The key is being patient enough to look at what we're doing and look at who we're doing it with and try to, in the proper frame of mind, make sound decisions that are in the best interest of the Saints for future years so that we're not sitting here at this time next year at 7-9. That really is the key; I think that we have to be and I have to be able to evaluate and look seriously and say, 'How can I do a better job as the head coach next year? How can we do a better job on offense? How can we do a better job on defense? How can we do a better job in the kicking game? And how can we improve our team from a personnel standpoint?' Those are all parts of improving your team, and if you just push and set aside and say this is all we have to do to get better, I think you're making a mistake. You have to look at all those areas. Last year we had success and yet we still didn't have the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl, so when you come back off of that season, offensively we spent a lot of time working on areas that we felt we needed to improve on, no different than what the defense did and special teams did. The same thing will take place this year. There's almost a month in the calendar dedicated to scheme evaluation and correcting how we can be better in the red zone and on third down. That's one of the things that I think is important in coaching – being able to look at those things objectively and make changes, and just as important as that is going to be our evaluation of our players and the evaluation of the future players we bring in here."
Drew Brees said that the players developed more of an appreciation for what New England has done in being able to win with a target on them. Was this year a lesson on how difficult it can be to play as a favorite?
"Talking about New England first, one of the reasons that there has been so much attention drawn to what they're doing is that it's that amazing. It's rare, it's unique, and it's special, and they deserve all of the credit. To play 16 games in a row and win every one of them – they've been on the ropes two or three times with Baltimore, Philly a little bit and in the New York game – but it's just an amazing accomplishment. You're not afraid as a player or coach to say, 'I'm jealous.' That's what we want to accomplish someday. We want to play for a championship and it's healthy to say that. But we have a ways to go to improve. We have to be able to recognize that and then make those improvements. There are some things that I'm encouraged with, some things that as you look to next season that get me excited. I like the locker room that we have. I like the focus that we've had all year and the attention to detail. But there are some areas that we have to improve on and get better in and that starts with the offseason program."
Are there different levels of teams in the league and where would you say your team is now?
"We are what are record says we are right now and that's 7-9. Certainly you would have to say that New England that everyone is looking at and shooting for, and that's to their credit. It's something that they've done with good coaching, good players, a lot of hard work and a lot of confidence. But back to our team, there are some things that are disappointing and it was disappointing losing yesterday and finishing the season the way we did. But starting 0-4, we put ourselves in a hole that in the end was hard to ever really get out of. We got back to .500 a couple of times, but we could never get past that mark. We just were never consistent enough and you guys saw that all year. That would be the one thing – the consistency from week to week wasn't where we needed it to be and it seemed as if our margin for error wasn't very great. That's where we're at now as we head into this offseason, which is going to be an important offseason for our guys."
Do you have a timeframe for Mike McKenzie returning and does that change the way you go about planning in the offseason?
"In general with Mike's injury, the goal date is to be healthy at the start of training camp. With that being said, it's kind of like Deuce's a couple of years back where he's there at minicamp but he's not participating, but each player is different. That would be the standard ACL recovery from injury date to when they feel like he should be close to 100%. We'll keep our fingers crossed because he was having a real solid year at that position, which it seems is always a position of need of depth and you hate to lose a key veteran player like that. But you have to examine that and make sure that you have goal dates in mind for returns of players and when these injuries should be healthy.
"There are a handful of procedures that our players will have done here in the next two weeks that are very common at the end of a season, arthroscopically – I don't want to get into all of the specifics – but they're generally two-to-three week procedures. Outside of that, we had our team meeting today and went through the protocol of the next two or three months before we start up in March again. That was really it. It was disappointing, but like I said, I like the (locker) room. I like the room a lot and we just have to keep working to improve it and that's something that we'll be able to do starting this offseason and working on correcting the little things that hurt us as we look at the cut-ups and the games lost this year."
How significant is the priority of figuring out how to use Reggie Bush in the offense?
"I think that's a popular topic but that's not at the top of the priority list for me. We'll be able to move the football and we'll convert third downs and we'll be able to score points. We want to be able to use our personnel as best we see fit, as each week presents itself. Yesterday that meant Pierre Thomas more because of the health of some guys, and that can fluctuate week-by-week. When you miss Deuce McAllister, it affects you; when you miss Reggie Bush, it affects you. We just have to be flexible enough within the course of a season be able to mid-stream adjust if you lose players, and we were able to do that for the most part when we lost guys this year. Finding the right role for guys is always important, but I think that's a good problem when you're talking about a player like Reggie Bush. Finding his role, we'll be able to figure that out. Last year, he stayed healthy for the season and did a good job in the passing game and running the ball. I think we'll spend a lot of time watching the tape and trying to best use our personnel, but I think that that will be something that we'll be able to manage and handle."
Why was the team able to stay together and keep from finger-pointing this season?
"It starts with character. To win championships, you have to have talent, you have good coaching, and you have to have character – all of the things that we're seeing. When you look at New England, they're a team that is setting the bar for everybody, and there's a mix there. We have talent in that locker room and we're looking to improve that in the offseason. We have coaches that know what we're doing and we're looking to improve each year in our scheme. But I do think right now that the character aspect of the team is strong. When we down 0-4, we were able to come back and win four games in a row and there was never a point in the season – even towards the very end of the season – where you felt like you weren't getting a good effort during the week in practice. We have guys that really care about winning and it's important to them. That being said, there are still things that we have to be able to correct, but it's much easier to do when you know that you're dealing with players that spend a lot of time here. I like that environment a lot now. Like I mentioned earlier, we just have to make the corrections and make the improvements, but the environment here is conducive to where we're wanting to go and that's encouraging."
What will you do with your two kickers? Will you bring both Martín Gramatica and Olindo Mare to camp next summer?
"My initial thoughts would be to having had a chance to look at both of those compete, I was very pleased with some of the kicks that Martín made for us in just a short period of time, a couple of weeks ago at the end of the half and then yesterday again away in bad conditions. We'll see where Olindo is at with the injury and we expect him to be fully recovered. But they will be given every opportunity to compete. There's no decision made in regards to a direction we're going right now. I'd like to think that we're keeping our options open and I've been encouraged with Martín's kicks in the last couple of weeks and I thought Mare was playing his better football in the last couple of weeks prior to his injury."
Do you think you need an impact free agent on defense to help you immediately?
"The first step here in this process is evaluating our own players and our own scheme. In other words, we'll spend time beginning a week from now when the coaches get back looking at A to Z our roster, defensively, offensively and the kicking game, and then we'll set up our areas of needs where we feel like we have to improve. If that involves an impact player on defense or on offense, then we'll set out to do that. Mickey (Loomis) and I will sit down with the coaching staff and the personnel people and we'll review everything. After that takes place, we spend time on scheme evaluation, really about two-and-a-half weeks on self-scout of what we did and how we can improve that. It's interesting – it's the beginning of an offseason, but really it's a critical step, these next three or four weeks, in the future success. The decisions made in regards to who's doing it and what we're doing are very important decisions.
"I think it's always important that there's always a day or two or three removed from when you just played to getting into evaluating your own personnel. I was made yesterday at (Steve) Weatherford because he punted the ball to Hester one time, but I need a couple of days to give an evaluation fairly on Weatherford. But that's what our plan is – Monday when we come back to discuss our roster from top to bottom and go over our players. I'm not discounting what you just said, but I'm just not ready to say that that's the only thing. One of the areas that we need to improve on is defense. I think we need to improve and get some younger players there. I don't know how many draft picks we have on offense right now, but it's the one area that we've been able to address for whatever reason. We talked about this a year ago when Reggie Bush fell to us, we weren't planning on picking a running back but he was the best player available and you just go on down the line. So we'll see where that brings us."
What hampered Charles Grant this year?
"He had the injury for seven weeks. We spent a good deal of money securing him and I'm glad we did. He was out with the ankle injury and it gradually came back, but I'm not talking about wholesale changes. I'm just talking about where we need to pay attention to coming off the end of the season, where I think we can help ourselves. I think the approach that we'll take has been the same approach – when the draft comes, you're always looking to try to take the best player on the board and in free agency you're trying to identify some needs that you feel like you need to fill to immediately help your team. That's been the approach and that's where we begin right now."
Is Martín Gramatica under contract beyond the season?
"No. There are a number of guys that are not. There are over a dozen that are UFAs (unrestricted free agents) now."
You have three receivers that are free agents. Do you intentionally say that you want Robert Meachem to be in your top three or four and make that work?
"No, I think a player earns his way always into the top three or four. Always. He just gets the opportunity that they all get. He'll get plenty of reps and he'll get plenty of opportunities. I've been encouraged with what I've seen in the last part of the season. But obviously we want to see good things from him because we selected him in the first round. I'm excited by what I've seen from him in the last four or five weeks. As we head into the offseason, it will be a big offseason for him. He's healthy; he's running now without a gait; you don't see him limping at all and he's made a lot of plays on scout team. Those are all encouraging signs that give him a chance. His ability to stay healthy and actually participate in the minicamps and training camps are going to help him a great deal. There will be competition, though, with all of those guys. We're never setting out a specific path just for one guy to have."
Do you see Meachem as one of the guys to fill one of the top spots at wide receiver?
"I see him as a guy that's going to be in the mix to compete. Those free agents that we talked about at receiver, I'd like to have those guys back. They are some guys that played real well for us. Certainly, he's a guy that's in our plans. We're optimistic about the last month-and-a-half of what we saw, but that's something that he'll earn."
Could you evaluate the season that Marques Colston had?
"He's been strong inside. He took some hits yesterday. He's someone that if you asked me what I thought his strengths would be, it would be his ability to catch the ball in traffic. He has strong hands and he's a big target. He gets knocked around, but he's pretty physical inside. He's provided a consistent target for Drew. A guy like him is effective in the red zone and in third downs. One of the reasons we've been effective in the red area and on third downs is because of his size and the confidence level that the quarterback has in him. He works hard at it and he's done a good job."
Will the wide receiver position draw a lot of attention this offseason?
"I like the group right now. When we go through this process, you try to rank the categories that we feel that we need to pay the most attention to. But we're young with Colston and you've got some younger players and (David) Patten, who's an older player, Devery Henderson – those guys are free agents. It starts with paying attention to your own players. Terrance Copper, Patten and Devery Henderson are the three guys that become UFAs. I think that we're going to be alright there. I like that group. When you start looking at what we're doing and what we've been able to do throwing the football, we've had more drops than I'd like to see, so that's an area that we need to improve on – but Meachem's progress will be important for that group and overall we'll be able to develop the receivers. That room will be OK."
Would it be fair to say that one of the major reasons you didn't win more games was because the free agents you signed and your draft choices didn't contribute as much as you envisioned?
"I don't that would be fair to say because I think that's trying to specifically lay blame on one…here it is again Monday and we want to hang somebody. I think there were some free agents that contributed a lot – David Patten and Kevin Kaesviharn had big contributions. I think that it was a little harder for this draft class to break into the starting lineup maybe than in years past because we had a team that just came back from winning 10 games.
"I think that when we've won games, there has been some good things spread around about the way players have played, we made good play calls, the quarterback played well, we tackled well, we didn't have any turnovers, we didn't give up the big play. But when we've lost some games, we've turned it over, both young and old, and we haven't made all the right play calls, starting with me, and we haven't tackled and we haven't prevented the big play – both young and old – and so I think it would be unfair to say that the '07 draft class and the '07 free agency class are the ones. I think three years from now you can grade the '07 draft class if you want to do it effectively. Otherwise, I think you're speculating. I think it's easier to grade the '07 free agency class; that's just my feeling when you look at the games.
"We had veteran players that didn't play as well as we would have liked yesterday in the loss. You're always hoping when you bring in a free agent that you're going to get a big contribution from them or there's going to be a role for them. And you're always hoping that when you bring in draft picks that they're going to be players that end up playing well in your program. For us to evaluate the draft, it's going to be a little easier two years from now to evaluate '07's draft and it's going to be a little easier a year from now for us to evaluate, even though we already have positive signs from '06's class, and that's good. But there are enough of the things that we didn't do well, starting with myself, that go into this 7-9 season."
What was the most challenging part of your second season as a head coach?
"The disappointment of losing. When you're winning and you end up in the postseason in your first year – I've been in this long enough to know that I'm not taking that for granted and I can appreciate the challenges of getting into the postseason. Then in the second year, the up and down swing of how we've been able to play, of one week playing real well and being smart with the football and then the next week of not playing as well. That's probably the most frustrating in the second year."
What kind of a job do you think you did this year?
"I think the job I did is 7-9. We're measured in our industry in wins and losses and we know that going in. The great thing about our job is we can get a chance to do it again. You get a chance to improve from the week before – you know it's out there and when you win, it's good and when you lose, it's not as good – that's the end result. Right now we're 7-9 and we're not in the postseason, so it's not where we want to be and it's not where I want to be, and it's not where Mr. Benson or anyone in the Saints organization aspires to be. We have a nucleus here – starting with the quarterback – that we feel like can win a championships with and you just keep building around him and putting the right guys in the locker room and that's going to be the key for us. It will be difficult - I need to really look hard at where could we have done a better job. If we ask our players to do that, then we need to be able to ask ourselves to do the same thing.
"Those are the things that we will do a good job at in the next month, and that's why the next month is important to what we do next year because I've seen a lot of bad decisions made in this month on different teams when I have been on different teams as an assistant. I've seen a lot of bad decisions made from January to March. It's important who is evaluating and who's looking at it and who's looking at the scheme. If you want to blitz more, what kind of blitzes do you want to run? Do you want to run man blitzes? Do you want to run zone blitzes? Do you want to run more coverage? Do you want to run the ball more? Those decisions are important in regards to who it is that's looking at them and who it is that's making them and I know that Mickey and I will spend a lot of time evaluating and talking about our players and talking about our coaches – talking about our scheme and that's the way it should be. I think that takes place universally in our league for 32 teams when their season ends. That period is easier and shorter when you are in the postseason because you don't have as much time, but chances are there are some wrong decisions made at that time as well. You won and you think everything is all right and you just keep going. This next month is important it's important in making the right decisions for the Saints – both with what we're doing and who we're doing it with.
"Like I said, I like the locker room, I like the environment that we have. I think we have good leadership. We're going to continue to upgrade and try to improve our team - our guys want to win but we didn't do enough and we did too many things that kept us from winning at certain times, like yesterday where we turn the ball over, or we punt it to a really good return man – and I'm not just talking about the punter – or we give up a big play specifically where this is a down and distance where this is a route we are going to see. We need to be a little bit smarter and understand what keeps you from winning, and those are the things that we will look hard at."
What happened on the touchdown pass to Devin Hester?
"It was man-free coverage. Jason Craft was playing him man-to-man, so there's no coverage you're playing where you just say it's a go route. You want to stay on top of Hester because you know he can run. To credit him, he got past Jason and scored a touchdown. "
What are your feelings on the four running backs on the roster coming back next year?
"Well, we'll see. There is a lot that goes into that – Aaron (Stecker) is a free agent now and I had a good visit with him today. Deuce (McAllister) has been injured and we expect him to recover, and certainly Reggie is coming off an injury and Pierre Thomas did a good job yesterday. I was encouraged with the way he played and I said this yesterday – it was important for us to see him play a whole game. We'll see; it's too early to tell. It's a position group that we felt good about coming in and we got a little nicked up at, and I've said before that I don't think you can have enough running backs."
What is Pierre's contract status for 2008?
"He is under contact."
You said these next 3-4 weeks are critical to success. Looking back to last year, are there things you would have done differently?
"We set out to improve on the red zone and we got better in the red-zone. We set out to improve on third down and we got better in that area. We probably weren't as balanced as I would have liked to have been. Defensively we did a much better job against the passing game then we did this year. Those are some things that come to mind right now specifically. We're trying to build something here, and not take shortcuts and certainly 7-9 is not where we wanted to finish this year. So now we get back up and start working and start making the right decisions and start making the right corrections, that's what we have to do. I think we're all disappointed and our expectations are higher than that. This isn't the "same old Saints," as I read someone wrote earlier today – we're changing that – and that's why there's obviously disappointment and that's where we're shooting – we're shooting to win a Super Bowl here."
When talking to Drew Brees earlier he stated you guys were better than a 7-9 team. How does that balance with "you are what your record says you are"?
"There were a couple of games that you could say – and you could do this every year – we could point to last season and look at two games we won that we really could have lost and we could point to a couple last year that we could have lost that we won. The Tampa game was a disappointing loss at home and the Carolina game was a disappointing loss at home. Those are two that we had opportunities to win and we didn't – that's where it is at. Our overall plan is to win a championship here. There are pieces in place that give us a chance to do that, but I still think we have work to do, starting this offseason.
How much football will you watch over the next four weeks?
"A little bit. It's hard to watch the playoffs when you're not playing. You know you're not watching them with some result in mind – when a year ago you wanted to see if you were playing an NFC Championship game at home or on the road. It is harder to watch when you're not involved."