Candidates to replace Sean Payton as Saints coach

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Dennis Allen
Dennis Allen (Photo: Parker Waters)

Sean Payton has decided to retire as New Orleans Saints head coach.

The next question becomes: Who will take his place?

Here’s a list of 10 candidates – and two “wild cards” – who could be possibilities to become the next head coach.

“Payton coaching tree” candidates

Dennis Allen

Current job: Saints defensive coordinator

The skinny: By all accounts, well liked and well respected within the organization. Has NFL head coaching experience, albeit with questionable management. Reportedly was going to interview with the Chicago Bears Tuesday for their vacancy. The odds-on favorite at this point.

Dan Campbell

Current job: Lions head coach

The skinny: Was assistant head coach and tight ends coach under Payton. Least likely because he’s a sitting head coach and would likely require a trade to land a coach under contract.

Aaron Glenn

Current job: Lions defensive coordinator

The skinny: Went with Dan Campbell from New Orleans to Detroit. Serve as Saints secondary coach under Payton. Interviewed for the vacant head coaching job in Denver a couple of weeks ago.

Joe Lombardi

Current job: Chargers offensive coordinator

The skinny: Served as quarterbacks coach with New Orleans before getting the chance to become a coordinator. Has guided the rapid ascent of Justin Herbert in LA. Interviewed for the vacant Houston Texans position. His grandfather, Vince, was a pretty good head coach in his day.

Doug Marrone

Current job: University of Alabama offensive line coach

The skinny: Marrone was offensive coordinator and offensive line coach on Payton’s first three teams in New Orleans (2006-08) before coming a head coach in Buffalo (2013-14) and Jacksonville (2017-20). He guided the Bills to their first winning season in a decade and the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game.

Non-“Payton tree” candidates

Eric Bieniemy

Current job: Chiefs offensive coordinator

The skinny: Bieniemy, who was born in New Orleans, has been a candidate numerous times for head coaching positions over the last three years, as the Chiefs have ascended to the NFL’s elite and are a win away from a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

Nathaniel Hackett

Current job: Packers offensive coordinator

The skinny: Hackett doesn’t have ties to the area, but if you’re looking for the next Sean Payton, he could be the guy. He’s 42 – the same age as Payton when he was hired in New Orleans. It’s possible he could attract Aaron Rodgers to follow him if he were to leave.

Jim Harbaugh

Current job: University of Michigan head coach

The skinny: Harbaugh coached in the last Super Bowl played in New Orleans before leaving the 49ers to return to his alma mater. He’s been rumored to have interest in returning to the NFL in this hiring cycle, with some connecting him to the Raiders and Bears openings.

Byron Leftwich

Current job: Buccaneers offensive coordinator

The skinny: This move would not only produce a good candidate, but would hurt the Saints’ biggest rival in the NFC South. If Tom Brady isn’t returning to Tampa Bay, this may be the time to strike on a head coaching opportunity for Leftwich, the former Marshall standout who played a decade in the NFL and has five years of NFL coaching experience, mostly under Bruce Arians. (Update: Multiple reports Tuesday night indicated Leftwich will be named the Jaguars new head coach.)

Doug Pederson

Current job: Unemployed

The skinny: Pederson, a ULM graduate and former head coach at Calvary Baptist from 2005-08, won Super Bowl LII in February 2018, becoming the fourth person to win a Super Bowl as a player (Packers) and head coach (Eagles). He went 42-37-1 in five seasons as head coach of the Eagles, who fired him after the 2020 season. He has interviewed for vacancies with the Bears, Vikings and Broncos.

The “Wild Cards”

Drew Brees

Current job: NBC television analyst

The skinny: He’s never coached a down, unless you count his kids in FNA football, but no one knows the inner workings of this franchise better. If you were even going to go down a rabbit hole for a coach with zero experience, here’s your guy.

Nick Saban

Current job: University of Alabama head coach

The skinny: If Payton was reportedly making in the $15 million range, could you throw that kind of money at Saban and get him to leave Tuscaloosa to return to Louisiana, an area he loved in his time here? If you land him, maybe he can hire Brees on his staff and put the two together, which of course didn’t happen in Miami in 2006.

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Lenny Vangilder


Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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