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Saints promised change -- now delivering in a big way

1/21/2015

MOBILE, Ala. -- Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis weren't messing around when they promised change this offseason.

The New Orleans Saints made three of their most significant moves to date Tuesday with the firing of longtime college scouting director Rick Reiprish and the reported additions of Dennis Allen to their defensive coaching staff and Jeff Ireland to their front office (both according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter).

The Saints have not yet confirmed or explained the reasoning behind any of the moves -- though Loomis said he'll visit with the media Wednesday during Senior Bowl practices.

Allen's return is the splashiest. But the front-office moves may cause even bigger ripples because the Saints also lost top personnel man Ryan Pace and one of their top scouts Josh Lucas to the Chicago Bears.

It's unclear exactly what Ireland's role will be with the Saints, but he'll likely become a huge part of the college scouting process right away because Pace, Reiprish and Lucas were three of the four highest-ranking college talent evaluators in the scouting department (not including Loomis and Payton).

That's quite a shift this late into the college-scouting process. But it comes at a time when Payton and Loomis both made it clear that they felt like change was necessary at every level of the organization -- and Loomis had specifically mentioned personnel evaluation as one of the areas they have to look at with a critical eye.

So whether or not the Saints intended for a shake-up of this magnitude, they've now got one.

Ireland's tenure as general manager of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-13 ended unceremoniously when he and the team announced a mutual parting of ways after five consecutive non-winning seasons.

But Payton, in particular, knows Ireland well because they are both disciples of Bill Parcells and worked together with the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-05. Parcells was the one who promoted Ireland to his first GM job when Parcells took over the Dolphins' football operations.

As for why the Saints fired Reiprish after 11 years with the organization, even he seemed a little lost for an answer after saying he was caught by surprise when Loomis informed him of the move Tuesday afternoon in Mobile.

However, Reiprish's role had slightly diminished in recent years. Pace began overseeing both the pro and college scouting departments in 2012 instead of just the pro department. And a source said Tuesday that Reiprish's role had quietly been reduced even further during the 2014 season -- though Reiprish said the amount of schools he visited declined only slightly.

One popular theory among fans Tuesday was that Reiprish was being held accountable for the lack of production the Saints got from their 2014 draft class -- but that seems unlikely because Reiprish's role was diminishing even before that class was assembled.

Reiprish had been with the Saints since 2004, mostly as their lead college scout -- and he was widely credited for his role during the greatest period of success in franchise history. The Saints drafted 10 Pro Bowlers during his tenure -- including three in the remarkable 2006 draft class that produced Roman Harper, Jahri Evans and Marques Colston -- not to mention Zach Strief and two guys thriving in other places, Reggie Bush and Rob Ninkovich.

And Reiprish had worked with Loomis even longer -- first working together with the Seattle Seahawks in the 1980s.

"It was a good run," Reiprish said. "A lot of good teams, a lot of good personnel moves. But not good enough when you go 7-9. I don't know where my role fit into that. But expectations are a little higher [with the Saints]. …

"I don't have any hard feelings. I've known Mickey for 30 years, he gave me a solid job, we won a Super Bowl. I wish him the best. He made a decision, a hard decision, I respect that. Whether I agree with that or not, that's something else."

That "7-9" explanation is the best one for all of the moves the Saints have made so far this offseason -- including the decision to part ways with longtime tight ends coach Terry Malone, receivers coach Henry Ellard and assistant secondary coach Andre Curtis.

The Saints ultimately decided to keep defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, despite the defense's stunning collapse in 2014 (31st in the NFL in yards allowed and dead last in efficiency, according to ESPN Stats & Information). But bringing in Allen certainly signals that they won't settle for the status quo.

Allen served as the Saints' secondary coach when they won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season -- before he went on to become the Denver Broncos' defensive coordinator and the Oakland Raiders' head coach.

It's unclear what Allen's role will be with the Saints and how much influence he'll have along with Ryan, whom he's never worked with before.

But I talked with several people who have worked with Allen in the past during practices in Mobile on Tuesday. And they almost universally described him as extremely intelligent and well-respected by players. Two of them predicted Allen will have a "calming influence" over a defense that had so many young, talented players who underachieved in 2014.

Editor's note: Parcells and Ireland reportedly had a falling out in 2011; the assumption in the original version of this story that Parcells would have highly recommended Ireland has been removed.