Sean Payton could leave New Orleans for good after this season is over. According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports (h/t Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com), Payton is prepared to take an offer to coach anywhere next season.
Though it's been assumed for the past month-plus that Payton would coach either the New Orleans Saints or Dallas Cowboys next season and beyond, the report that Payton could coach in another locale next season makes it seem more likely that Payton might actually be gone in 2013.
Such a development in New Orleans is unfortunate because clearly Payton is not only the best fit for this current Saints franchise, but he is also far and away the best coaching option that will be available to New Orleans this offseason.
That is except for one potential option—Joe Vitt.
Since Vitt returned from his six-game suspension to begin the season, courtesy of Roger Goodell for his role in the bounty scandal, the Saints have gone 4-4. For struggling mathematicians, that is a relatively subpar .500 winning percentage.
But a first-year head coach (which is essentially what Vitt has been this year) should not be judged on his win-loss record alone. He should be judged, instead, on progress.
And the progress of this team has been mostly phenomenal under his guidance. The primary area where that is true, of course, is on the defensive side of the football.
Steve Spagnuolo is a genius X's and O's defensive coordinator. He is a wonderful teacher. Give him credit for the improvement from Week 1 to Sunday's shutout performance.
But also be sure to give a great amount of props to Vitt. That's because Vitt brings one added element that the otherwise great Spagnuolo simply cannot—intensity, passion, energy or whatever you want to call it.
Vitt is an extremely passionate man who demands perfection from his players, much the way that Sean Payton does. Like the former, Vitt is known for his motivational tactics. If Payton is legendary in that department, then Vitt is closely behind as a prodigious master of persuasion.
Vitt is the type of coach that players would almost literally run through a brick wall just to please. He is the type of guy that fellow coaches and players praise for his attitude and the way he handles his job.
And perhaps most importantly he is a man with almost zero pride. He is always willing to praise the efforts of those around him. That is the reason players will run through a brick wall for him. They respect him.
And it's the reason a highly qualified coach like Steve Spagnuolo would be likely to stay on as defensive coordinator even in the event of Vitt taking the head coaching job full-time.
Vitt praised Spagnuolo and his team for Sunday's shutout, saying after the game, "But it's certainly a tribute to Steve Spagnuolo and his staff and players, the way they've stuck together. If anybody in this room envisioned a shutout after the first couple of games this year, you couldn't have predicted that. That's staying the course with the right players and the right coaches and the right attitude and the right teaching and the right accountability."
From that quote alone, it is clear that Vitt believes in the players on this current Saints roster. It is clear he believes in the coaches on the current staff. It is clear that he believes in the mentality that resides within the locker room, which was first instituted and monitored by Payton.
There is little doubt that Vitt, being the man he is, would prefer to go back to being assistant head coach/linebackers coach. But he also believes in this group of players, coaching staff and organization.
And he should. It does not need a radical makeover. It may need a pinch of Emeril's special sauce to give it a kick start.
Greater commitment to the running game and a truly intimidating and punishing player on the defensive side of the ball wouldn't hurt the team any. Those two traits would likely be the missing ingredients to take an already great rue and make it epic to the level of Po'Boys and brass bands.
In that sense, it may actually be Joe Vitt who is better suited to do that for this particular team.
But even if he isn't the one to push this team over the top, one thing is sure after scanning the list of potential coaching candidates: none of them are either.
If Sean Payton does not return to New Orleans in 2013, who should be the Saints' new head coach?
The only name that even remotely makes sense is Chip Kelly, who would allow the Saints to continue to do what they do well—spread the football around and utilize the plethora of talented running backs currently at the disposal of Drew Brees.
Defensively, Kelly would surely not get in Spagnuolo's way as he continues to implement his complicated pressure defensive scheme. Then again, he would be missing one key element that Vitt possesses: familiarity.
Any new coach is going to try to put his own stamp on a new program. But new coaches do not win Super Bowls in year one. And the Saints are ready to win next season, with just a few simple little adjustments.
So even the best option after Vitt is not really an adequate option. Nor are Mike McCoy, Greg Roman or any other "hot names."
The Saints need the continuity that stems from having a guy in the building for all the success the franchise has had since Payton took over in 2006. The team needs a guy who gets it.
Joe Vitt gets it.