The Saints showed good judgment in selecting a fill-in for suspended head coach Sean Payton for the second time this offseason.
After months of speculation about who would take over for Joe Vitt when he began his six-game suspension for his role in the team’s “bounty” program, the Saints made the announcement Wednesday — offensive-line coach/running-game coordinator Aaron Kromer is the pick.
The decision did not come as a surprise. The candidates that had always been considered the most likely options were Kromer, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
By opting for Kromer, owner Tom Benson and GM Mickey Loomis displayed the same sentiment they did in selecting Vitt to fill in for Payton — make the choice that will shake up the operation the least.
We don’t know how the Saints or Kromer will fare over the first six weeks of the regular season, but choosing Kromer was a smart way to set the table for a successful start by the team.
Spagnuolo can continue to focus on preparing a defense that has some concerning injury issues at linebacker and one that might start the season without two of its top leaders in suspended MLB Jonathan Vilma and DE Will Smith. Carmichael can put all of his energy into being the team’s play-caller — a job he handled for much of last season, but with Payton overseeing him — and Kromer is qualified for the job.
He might be an interim interim head coach, but, as Drew Brees said Wednesday, Kromer is well respected in the locker room. He is well respected around the league, too. This is not the first time an NFL team looked at Kromer as a potential head coach — he was considered for the Rams’ head-coaching job earlier this year before they hired Jeff Fisher.
There is no doubt it will take the team some time to get used to having Kromer in charge, and the first game of the regular season is less than three weeks away. Kromer does not officially become head coach until Sept. 3, so he will be getting a crash course from Vitt up until that point.
This is a unique challenge for the team, and no one can be certain of how it will turn out, even though the Saints seem well equipped to handle the difficulties they face.
Vitt seemed to do a fine job of leading the team throughout the offseason, and the Saints will miss his steady guidance. Spagnuolo acknowledged as much on Wednesday.
“It’s a challenge just to be losing Joe,” Spagnuolo said. “I will be honest with you. I’m loving every minute of working with Joe Vitt. I think he’s done an unbelievable job both in coaching the linebackers and serving as the interim head coach. So we’re going to miss him. There’s a lot of expertise and experience there and there’s the relationship he has with the players.
“But, in this league and I think Joe would tell you the same thing, defensively, if someone leaves, someone has to step up. We have a plan in place.”
That plan is about to be put to the test. The change at head coach so close to the regular season will be yet another challenge for the Saints, but if the way they have handled things to this point is any indication, they will barely flinch.
Kromer will be handed the keys to one of the league’s most talented teams. If he does well during his six-game stint at the helm, the rest of the league will take notice and it might not be long before Kromer has a full-time head-coaching job.