Fresh off his 7-week bounty-related suspension, New Orleans interim coach Joe Vitt didn’t wait an extra second to rejoin the team – in Florida.
After watching Sunday’s game from an unknown location in the Tampa area, he flew back to New Orleans with the Saints after they beat the Buccaneers 35-28 in a game Vitt was barred from attending.
On Monday, he revealed his suspension was excruciating.
“I agonized,” he said. “It’s hard to go thru that. I have been with these guys for 7 years. I care very deeply for this team. When you’re not there on game day, win or lose, with guys that you respect and love, it was a challenge.”
The Saints losing their first 4 games under his interim replacement, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, made it even more agonizing. Saints has won 2 in row but still faces a very hard battle to climb into playoff contention a year since finishing 13-3.
First on Vitt’s agenda is fixing the NFL’s worst defense statistically.
The Saints (2-4) have allowed a league-high 465.5 yards per game under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, including 513 to Tampa Bay, which scored touchdowns on its first 3 possessions.
Four of the Saints’ 6 opponents have gained more yards against them than anybody else. A 5th, Washington, scored a season-high 40 points.
“I’m definitely not a miracle worker,” Vitt declared. “I’m humble to be back here. I met up with (Spagnuolo) and we know there are things we are able to do better from a coaching standpoint and from a players’ standpoint and from a schematic standpoint.”
Vitt can help just by coaching the linebackers, his position responsibility. The Saints have been down a defensive staff member since his suspension started at the end of the preseason. Baseball scores
“I know it’s been hard for him as much as he loves the team to see us playing the last 6 or 7 weeks,” linebacker Scott Shanle claimed.
“Everybody was excited to see him back. He went around on the plane speaking to different men just to catch up.”
The serious work began when Vitt got back to his office, he announced he already had talked to every assistant coach individually, the team doctors, owner Tom Benson and team president Dennis Lauscha in an effort to make up for his lost time.
Although Vitt is much more fiery than the reserved Kromer, neither coaches nor players expect any heavy changes in tone. From the day coaching camp started without head coach Sean Payton, who is suspended for the season, the Saints have preached staying the course Payton laid out over 6 years.
“The foundation has been built,” Shanle said. “It will be a different person in front of us, perhaps saying some different things, but the message will be the same week in and week out.”
The Saints will make an effort to build on their performance against Tampa Bay even though it was uneven. Drew Brees rallied them from deficits of 14-0 and 21-7 by throwing for 313 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 1st half alone.