Countdown to Saints Season Opener: Pete Carmichael steps into the spotlight

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Pete Carmichael
(Photo: Stephen Lew).

METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints have had one of the most productive offenses in the NFL throughout the last 16 seasons.

That stretch started when Sean Payton was hired as head coach, and Pete Carmichael was at his side the whole time, first as quarterbacks coach, then as offensive coordinator.

Now Payton has resigned and been replaced by former defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who turned to Carmichael as the unquestioned leader of the offense as the Saints prepare to open the season against the Falcons on Sunday in Atlanta.

“It was really important for us to retain him,” executive vice president/football Mickey Loomis said of Carmichael. “He’s got a remarkable resume for the last 16 years – the number of times we’ve finished first and second (in the NFL in offense). “I don’t think he’s ever gotten enough credit for his role in our offense.”

That might be about to change.

The Saints will still be running the offense that Payton installed in 2006 and developed over the years – but now it will Carmichael’s show.

“I see it being very similar to what it’s looked like around here in the past,” Allen said of the 2022 offense.

Of course, the Saints offense will have to maintain a high degree of success in order for Carmichael to receive credit, but he does have a track record that suggests that is likely to happen.

In Carmichael’s first season as offensive coordinator (2009) the Saints won the Super Bowl. Two years later Carmichael took over the play-calling duties when a knee injury suffered on the sideline in Week 6 forced Payton into the coaches booth and the Saints set several NFL records while scoring the fourth-most points in NFL history.

Carmichael called plays in 2012 while Payton was suspended by the NFL (and the Saints finished second in yards and third in points) and again in 2016 (and the Saints finished first in total offense and passing offense as well as second in scoring).

“We’ve always done it as a group and for the most part it’s just always come out of Sean’s voice,” Carmichael said. “Obviously Sean was the biggest part of what this program was. It’s different now but I think we accept that challenge and get excited about it. It’s the next year and part of the NFL is change.”

The only person besides Carmichael to have the title of offensive coordinator under Payton is Doug Marrone (2006-2008), who Allen brought back to be his offensive line coach. Marrone and Carmichael were alongside Payton when the offense was created before the 2006 season.

“We had a lot of people in that room that had a lot of great ideas,” Marrone said. “Pete at that time was always good at, ‘hey this is what we can handle, this is what we can’t,’ obviously along with Sean. Pete always had a great feel for what the players can do, what they can’t handle and really a good feel for everyone’s challenges on a play-to-play basis.

“Not a lot of people have that. He knows what the line needs to help them be successful. He knows what the receivers need, the running backs, the tight ends, the quarterback. What may be great for one group may be challenging for another so he always does a good job of addressing it and trying to find a way to make it less challenging for the players. That’s a great skill that he has.”

The offense was built on foundational principles and included enough flexibility to adapt as personnel changed.

“We created a philosophy,” Marrone said. “When your talent changes you adapt different things, but you never really change what your true beliefs and principles are.”

Marrone summarized the Saints’ principles.

“You want to protect the running back, you want to create leverage in the run game, protect the quarterback, you want to be able to beat zone, beat man,” he said. “You want to be good at running the football, have a good play-action game so you don’t put that much stress on yourself on third down. You want to keep things manageable, you don’t want lost-yardage type plays, you don’t want penalties.”

Marrone, who was head coach at Syracuse University and with the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars in between stints with the Saints, sees the evolution of the 2022 offense from the one he left after the 2008 season.

“I see how it’s taken shape with adjusting to the different types of players that you have because that’s what it was meant to do in the beginning,” Marrone said. “It was meant to say, ‘hey we’re not going to force feed players into a certain position. Hey, we’re going to be able to utilize whatever talent we have at any position.’”

When asked about Carmichael’s strength, virtually every coach and player mentioned his intelligence first. Marrone did the same, but was quick to elaborate.

“I think the real key is how great of a teacher he is, how great he is at being able to explain things and players being able to have clarity right away,” Marrone said. “He’s someone who really has a full view of things so even when he was just coaching the quarterbacks he still had a 10,000-foot view of what was going on.

“He could see everything so he’s someone that can handle a ton of information, express what he wants in a clear way and communicate it and I think he’s a tremendous teacher.”

(Next: Part 4: Jameis Winston starts anew)

Click here for the entire Saints countdown series.

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Les East

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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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