NEW ORLEANS – Dennis Allen is getting a second chance to be an NFL head coach — this time with a New Orleans Saints franchise he helped transform from an oft-stumbling, also-ran into a regular contender during the 16-year tenure of his former boss, Sean Payton.
The New Orleans Saints have promoted Allen from defensive coordinator to head coach, two people familiar with the decision said Monday.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Saints have not announced their chosen replacement for Payton, who resigned nearly two weeks ago as — by far — the franchise's all-time leader in coaching victories.
The Saints chose to promote from within after also interviewing outside candidates, including former Miami coach Brian Flores, Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Allen, 49, is in his second stint with the Saints. He first joined the Saints in 2006 as an assistant on Payton's first staff and was their defensive backs coach when they won the Super Bowl in the 2009 season. He left New Orleans in 2011 to become Denver's defensive coordinator before taking his first and only other head coaching position with the Oakland Raiders in 2012.
He was fired by the Raiders four games into the 2014 season and returned to the Saints as a senior defensive assistant in 2015 before eventually taking over as defensive coordinator late that season when Payton fired Rob Ryan.
The Saints have ranked in the top seven in the NFL defensively during the past two seasons, raising Allen's profile once again as a head coaching candidate.
Hiring Allen gives the Saints a measure of continuity, not just on defense, but with the staff, a number of whom have years of experience working with Allen.
Top Saints defensive players such as sack leader Cameron Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis also have been vocal supporters of Allen during the past half-decade.
“Just a phenomenal coach, leader,” Davis said late last season. “Really understands our defense's personnel, understanding what guys do well, understands how to put us all in position to have success, really good at understanding the opponents.”
Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson played four seasons under Allen with the Saints before signing with Cincinnati as a free agent last offseason.
“He’s a great coach,” Hendrickson said during the Bengals’ Zoom sessions with reporters as Cincinnati prepares to play the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl on Sunday. “He expects the best out of his players. He’s a great leader. It was one of those things where I came in and pretty early on knew that he was special.
“And to have him as the DC, I knew he was going to be a head coach at some point in his career again.”
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis highlighted Allen's credentials to replace Payton on more than one occasion during the club's head coaching search.
“First of all, he’s a great coach and he’s been a part of our building for a long time,” Loomis said, adding that Allen helped foster the “culture” of the club during the Payton era and was “a big part of the success we’ve had over the years.”
Allen has been open about his desire to get a second chance as a head coach. The Raiders were struggling when he was hired to his first top job in Oakland. He went 4-12 in his first two seasons and was fired after an 0-4 start to his third.
Now he takes the reins of a team that narrowly missed the playoffs following a 9-8 2021 campaign, but which won the NFC South the previous four seasons and established a tradition of winning during the Payton era.
“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,” Allen said late this past season, in reference to possible head coaching opportunities. “I’d love to get that opportunity again; I think I’d be much more prepared for it.”
But Allen also will inherit some new challenges and headaches. New Orleans' quarterback position remains unsettled just one year removed from the retirement of franchise all-time passing leader Drew Brees.
Jameis Winston showed promise while going 5-2 as a starter before a season-ending knee injury, but he is due to become a free agent this offseason. Taysom Hill went 4-1 as a starter late in the season, making him 7-2 for his career. But that remains a relatively small sample size.
Meanwhile, New Orleans' top offensive player, running back Alvin Kamara, is facing criminal charges following a night club fight in Las Vegas that was caught on video last weekend. Depending on how his legal matters are resolved, the NFL could suspend him, possibly for multiple games.
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