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Replacing Vitt the next big test for Saints

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Dan Parr
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By Dan Parr

The waters were treacherous for the Saints over the past several months, and another ripple with at least a bit of boat-rocking potential will soon form around the club.

New Orleans is about to have its third different head coach in a little more than four months.

From all accounts, the decision to make Joe Vitt interim head coach has worked well for the Saints thus far. Players like and respect Vitt. He is suspended head coach Sean Payton’s right-hand man and has conducted camp in a way that would garner Payton’s approval.

The transition from Payton to Vitt was a smooth one, but Vitt will leave the team in less than four weeks when he begins a six-game suspension for his involvement in the Saints’ “bounty” program.

Will the next big transition for the team be just as seamless as the last one?

Owner Tom Benson and GM Mickey Loomis have had more than enough time to consider their options for an interim interim head coach in Vitt's stead. Loomis, who will begin serving an eight-game suspension of his own at the start of the regular season, said in April that the right choice would “reveal itself” to him and Benson over the course of the offseason and training camp.

They have not dropped hints, though, about the coach they might choose or whether they already have made a choice. Benson and Loomis are in no rush to reveal the one who captured their confidence. If a decision has been made — and there is speculation Benson and Loomis have had a pretty good idea of who their choice will be for some time — no one has let it leak out.

It seems unfair to give Vitt’s replacement so little time to prepare for such a demanding job, which makes it seem even more likely that there has been some sort of preparation going on behind the scenes. In this unique situation, Benson and Loomis could surprise us with their announcement, whenever they choose to make it, but they are not going to spring something so important on an unsuspecting and under-prepared candidate, right?

Why not give the choice to fill in for Vitt at least one preseason game to man the controls for a taste of what is ahead of him?

Fortunately for the Saints, their depth chart of assistants with the chops to be an NFL head coach is well stocked.

The candidates that always have seemed like the front-runners are offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive-line coach Aaron Kromer.

Kromer made sense as the choice before the Saints picked Vitt to step in for Payton because Kromer was not facing a suspension and it would be less disruptive to the coaching staff to have a non-coordinator — like Vitt, the linebackers coach — take on the head-coaching duties. Kromer still seems like a fine, and perhaps the best, choice for the job.

Like their bosses, players have mostly stayed mum on the topic, too, but starting ORT Zach Strief gave Kromer a vote of confidence when he recently was asked about the issue.

“I know playing for (Kromer), it’s obviously going to be a guy that's going to be a head coach one day,” Strief said, per a report. “I think he has that personality and he has that type of knowledge. I think he has the respect of guys. … I think he’d do a good job.”

It’s conceivable that Carmichael or Spagnuolo, or a lower-ranking assistant, would do a good job, as well, but overseeing the transition to a new defensive system, as Spagnuolo is doing in his first year on the job, is plenty of work for one person. The same goes for Carmichael, who will be calling plays on offense. He handled those duties for much of last season, but Payton isn’t there to bounce ideas off of — or overrule him — this time.

If the Saints want to choose the path of least disruption, Kromer still seems like the most logical choice.

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