The team hasn’t announced anything yet, so there’s no way of knowing if the Saints would consider bringing in a coach from the outside. It seems more likely the Saints would go with someone from Payton’s current staff. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt would have been a logical choice, but he has been suspended for the first six games of the season. There are some viable in-house candidates.
Let’s take a look:
Steve Spagnuolo. He was hired as the Saints’ defensive coordinator in January to replace Gregg Williams. Spagnuolo has no ties to the bounty program and a clean reputation in league circles.
Most importantly, Spagnulo has experience as a head coach and knows the many intricate details that come with that position. Spagnuolo was hired by the St. Louis Rams in 2008. He seemed to have the franchise turning the corner in his second season with rookie quarterback Sam Bradford playing well. The Rams went 7-9 in 2010, but Spagnuolo’s tenure fell apart in 2011 as the Rams went 2-14.
Although his tenure as a head coach wasn’t successful, Spagnuolo might be the leading candidate to guide the Saints in Payton’s absence. But the obvious knock against him is that he’s a defensive guy. The Saints are a team built around quarterback Drew Brees and a high-scoring offense. Spagnuolo doesn’t know the offensive system or personnel.
Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael could have an opportunity to be New Orleans' interim head coach.
Pete Carmichael. He’s the offensive coordinator who started to take on a higher profile when Payton broke his leg in a sideline accident last season. Carmichael took over play-calling duties and Payton allowed that to continue even after his leg was healed.
Carmichael’s name came up for several head-coaching vacancies in the offseason, but nothing materialized. Carmichael is clearly an assistant on the rise and filling in as an interim coach might boost his résumé. He also could be a viable long-term solution if, for some reason, Payton decides he doesn’t want to return after the suspension.
The positives with Carmichael are that he’s viewed as an intellectual when it comes to offense. He also gets along exceptionally well with Brees and the two worked together in San Diego before they came to New Orleans.
The knock on Carmichael is that he’s a very quiet guy and may be best suited to just being a coordinator. But this could be Carmichael’s chance to show he can handle a full locker room.
Aaron Kromer. He might be a long shot to leap over Spagnuolo and Carmichael, but Kromer seems to be a rising star. His name came up in some head-coaching searches earlier this offseason. He’s been New Orleans’ offensive line coach and running game coordinator. He’s well respected by the players and is known for being more vocal than Carmichael.