2013 New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Search: Who Is the Best Choice?

Jason Bernos@Berns247Contributor IIJanuary 28, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 03:  SiriusXM host and NFL Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton (R) broadcasts live from Radio Row during Super Bowl XLVI Week in Indianapolis with guest Sean Payton at the JW Marriott on February 3, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Sean Payton was reinstated on Tuesday. Steve Spagnuolo, in New Orleans Saints gear, was noticeably distant from Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt on Wednesday, and then the hammer got dropped on Thursday.

That is a hell of a first 72 hours back in office. 

There are two observations you should make from that bold move and the subsequent statements about it. First, if Payton was going to make a move as bold as this a couple days into his reinstatement tells me that he has to already have someone in mind to replace Spags. Secondly, when Payton says "we will take our time in hiring a DC" that just tells me that the person who he has in mind must be on either Baltimore or San Francisco's staff. (Both teams run highly successful 3-4 defenses, which Payton said he was switching to, and their positional coaches will be in high demand for coordinator positions.)

With that in mind, Payton could surprise everyone and choose to go with a relative unknown, or he could grab a veteran coach who has championship experience. Nobody knows what the head coach has in store, but i do know one name it won't be: Triple Snitch Williams.

Let's take a look at the best candidates out there to come in and run the defense that Payton wants. (Hint: It won't be Tampa 2-embracer Lovie Smith or Romeo Crennel, who will make more money NOT coaching in 2013.)

The Up-and-Comers 

Derek Mason, Stanford Defensive Coordinator/Secondary Coach

No, I am not talking about the ex-Baltimore Ravens receiver. Mason is a riser in the coaching ranks, and don't let the fact that he is a college coordinator fool you because he has basically run a "pro" defense the last two years at Stanford.

Before his stint at Stanford, he was with the Minnesota Vikings from 2007-09. At Stanford, he has been in charge of top tier defenses especially in 2012 where he coached a Top 10 unit. That is in a year when David Shaw had to lean heavily on Mason, a man he promoted after Vic Fangio left with Jim Harbaugh for San Francisco, because of the departure of Andrew Luck.

Mason would be an excellent young coordinator in the mold of Dennis Allen, former Saints secondary coach and current Oakland Raiders head coach.

Teryl Austin, Baltimore Ravens Secondary Coach

If you just took 2012 into account and look at the job Austin did with the injuries he had to deal with, you are immediately blown away. He made something out of Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith, an underachieving first round pick, while dealing with his best corner, Ladarius Webb, going down for the year early in the season.

Austin has been on two Super Bowl teams. One with Seattle in 2005, and the second with Arizona in 2008. He is a proven winner and great developer of young talent. He usually gets the best out of his players year in and year out.

Austin has never been a defensive coordinator in the NFL but should excel with his experience.

Darren Perry, Green Bay Packers Secondary Coach

Remember Perry, Saints fans? 

He was the starting safety opposite Sammy Knight in the 2000 season that helped bring the franchise it's first victory. He has had an awfully successful run as a coach in the NFL, as well.

He's only got about a decade of coaching experience in the NFL, all as a defensive backs coach, but he has two big things going for him. First, he has learned from two of the greatest minds to ever field a 3-4 defense in Dock Lebeau and Dom Capers. Second, his player development skills are outstanding.

He is credited with the rapid development of Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope while in Pittsburgh and helping resurrect Charles Woodson's career as well as turning Tramon Williams into a starting corner in Green Bay.

He could be available once Dom Capers is relieved of his duties after a couple of bad years for the Packers.

Jim Tomsula, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Line Coach

Tomsula was a NFL Europe defensive coordinator and head coach until Mike Nolan gave him a spot on the 49ers in 2007. Who knew that's all a great coach would need? Just a foot in the door.

Tomsula was retained by two different head coaches in San Francisco and even named the interim head coach in 2010 after Mike Singletary was fired. It boggles my mind how he has not become a defensive coordinator in the NFL.

He has single-handley resurrected Justin Smith's career and developed Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin into dominant 3-4 defensive lineman. He even had a hand in transforming ex-LSU tiger, Ricky Jean-Francois from lost cause to above average player.

He could be the guy that Sean Payton is being "patient" for.

The Veterans 

Romeo Crennel, former Kansas City Chiefs head coach

Crennel popped into my head as soon as Payton announced he was switching to a 3-4. He is the ultimate players coach who has had plenty of experience putting out top notch defenses no matter where he was. The numbers might not have always backed that up, but put on a tape of one of his defenses and see if you notice any slack on teams that were subpar.

You don't.

The only problem with Crennel is that he will be making about $6.5 million in 2013 without coaching one practice thanks to the Chiefs. That figure drops to zero if he accepts a job before his contract is "up" with Kansas City. After the year that he had, I would think that he would want to keep his mind focused on new things and not have as much time to dwell on his last year in the NFL. 

Eric Mangini, former Cleveland Browns head coach

Mangini is a candidate that I just can't get behind on. I understand that he has the same Super Bowl experience as Crennel, but, once he left New England, his defenses were never up to par with what Crennel had once he departed Foxboro.

Outside of his first year with the Jets, his defenses were average at best, and players were never too fond of playing under a man who wanted to act like Bill Belichick but wasn't as battle-tested as him. (No, one year as a defensive coordinator in New England doesn't help, especially since he was basically helped on defense by the hooded one.)

Mangini rose up the coaching ranks a little too fast for his own good. He should ease his way back into coaching with a secondary position and show some humility, but that might be hard for a man with his personality.

The Wild Card

Ken Norton Jr., Seattle Seahawks linebackers coach

Norton Jr. is in the similar vein of Mike Singletary as a defensive coach. He has a reserved intensity that could mesh very well with Sean Payton and Joe Vitt. He has been under Pete Carrol's thumb since 2004, both at USC and with the Seahawks.

The talent at linebacker that was churned out at USC during his tenure there is too long to list, but his developmental skills didn't stop when he reached the NFL as a coach. The Saints David Hawthorne saw his game increase with the help of Norton Jr. and so did K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner, two young linebackers who have bright futures ahead of them.

The only negative with Norton Jr. is that Seattle runs, primarily, a 4-3 base defense, but the way that they ran that defense, it was almost a hybrid form of a 3-4. That could turn a small negative into a big positive if he can translate his success up there into a 3-4 masterpiece and add more Super Bowl rings to his hand, this time as a coach.


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