The New Orleans Saints have hired defensive coordinator Dennis Allen as their next head coach.
Allen, 49, replaces his longtime boss, Sean Payton, who stepped away two weeks ago. This will be Allen’s second stint as a head coach after he went 8-28 as coach of the Raiders from 2012 to 2014.
The Saints also interviewed former NFL head coaches Brian Flores and Doug Pederson, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and their own special teams coordinator, Darren Rizzi, for the job.
Allen was considered the candidate to beat since he has been so successful as New Orleans’ defensive coordinator — and since the franchise wasn’t looking for an overhaul after posting the NFL’s second best regular-season record over the past five years.
“Those eight teams that let go of head coaches, I think their situations are different than ours,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said heading into the coaching search. “We had our coach retire with a lot of really good things in place already.
“That doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved and built upon. But … we don’t see it as a wholesale culture change, roster change, anything like that.”
New Orleans’ defense has morphed into the strength of the team in recent years, ranking fourth in the NFL in both yards allowed and points allowed over the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Allen also replaced Payton for one game in 2021 when he was sidelined by COVID-19, and the Saints won that game 9-0 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the first time Tom Brady had been shut out since 2006.
It’s unclear how much of the Saints coaching staff will be retained, though that may have been a factor in Allen’s hiring. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and Rizzi are among several highly valued assistants on the current staff.
The Saints are banking that Allen will have more success in his second stint as a head coach. And in fact, Loomis said he considers it a positive that Allen has that experience to learn from.
“First of all he’s a great coach, and he’s been a part of our building for a long time,” Loomis said last week. “He’s been part of building the culture and he’s been part of the success we’ve had over the years. And he’s got experience as a head coach as well.”
Allen now becomes the 11th full-time coach in Saints history and the 17th, including interim coaches. He was a member of Payton’s original coaching staff in 2006 as an assistant defensive line coach and served as secondary coach when the 2009 Saints won the Super Bowl. Allen left to become the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2011 and the Raiders’ head coach from 2012 to 2014. But he was fired four games into that last season and rejoined the Saints as a senior defensive assistant in 2015.
Allen became New Orleans’ defensive coordinator later in 2015 after Rob Ryan was fired, and he has held the role ever since — gradually helping to transform a unit that ranked 32nd in points allowed and 31st in yards allowed during that 2015 season.
The Raiders were in a bit of a rebuilding mode when Allen took over, partly because of salary-cap constraints. But the team wasn’t showing signs of progress when he was fired after an 0-4 start in 2014. They also lost the final six games of the 2013 season for a 10-game losing streak overall.
Unfortunately for Allen, he didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his final draft class with the team in 2014, which featured All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack and quarterback Derek Carr. However, Allen has insisted that his experience helped to make him a better coach.
“I think the resume and what we’ve been able to accomplish here defensively speaks for itself in terms of the type of culture and the type of group that we’ve built here,” Allen said in Week 18 when asked about potential head-coaching opportunities. “I’d love to get that opportunity again; I think I’d be much more prepared for it.
“I think anything you do, when you gain experience, you become better at whatever that task is. I certainly feel like we’ve grown here each year, I feel like we’ve gotten a little bit better. So, I just think that if you continue to work, you’re gonna improve at whatever you’re doing.”
Allen played safety at Texas A&M, then began his coaching career as an assistant with Texas A&M, Tulsa and the Atlanta Falcons before joining the Saints. His father, Grady Allen, played in the NFL for five years as a linebacker with the Atlanta Falcons.