Saints go slowly on replacement plan

As expected, the New Orleans Saints have announced that assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt will take over the day-to-day duties of coach Sean Payton when he starts his season-long suspension Monday.

“It is important that we keep Sean Payton’s philosophy front and center during this season,’’ general manager Mickey Loomis said. “Sean has been the driving force behind the tremendous success our team has enjoyed during the past six years, his leadership will be missed,” said Loomis. But we need to set a course of action that gives us the best chance to win this season without our head coach, and that is why I am announcing today that Joe Vitt will assume Sean’s duties. We considered a number of great options to handle Payton's duties both internally and externally, but believe this will provide the most seamless transition for our players and our coaching staff, allowing our offensive and defensive staffs to remain intact with the fewest changes. This is the same structure we used last season during Sean's knee injury."

The Saints also issued a statement from owner Tom Benson. This is the first statement directly attributed to Benson since news of the Saints’ bounty program broke.

“This is about our program, and the continued success of our program,” Benson said. “Joe has been part of building our success along with our head coach Sean Payton and our general manager Mickey Loomis. We are looking forward to the start of the offseason program, the NFL draft, our minicamps and training camp. We are looking forward to the start of our season, as I know that all of our fans are and we are looking forward to competing and winning a championship right here in our own city, in our own stadium this year.”

As I’ve said before, promoting Vitt makes sense on many levels. He’s been Payton’s right-hand man since the two came to the Saints in 2006. Vitt knows Payton’s system and philosophy better than anyone (and that includes Bill Parcells, who decided to stay retired). The offseason program and training camp should be seamless under Vitt, who served briefly as acting head coach last season when Payton had his leg and knee injured in a sideline collision. Vitt also previously served as the interim head coach for the St. Louis Rams.

Vitt is known for his old-school style and he knows the Saints’ personnel and other assistants well. The move makes complete sense in terms of continuity, but there’s one huge catch.

Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the season for his role in the bounty program. Vitt’s suspension won’t begin until just before the start of the regular season. That’s the same time that Loomis will begin his eight-game suspension.

Loomis didn’t lay out any plan for what the Saints will do as far as filling the roles of head coach and general manager at the start of the season. For now, Loomis said, the Saints will take things one step at a time.

“We will work through the offseason under this plan and when we get to training camp we will decide on a course of action for the first six weeks of the season, while Joe Vitt is unavailable,’’ Loomis said. “We are fortunate to have a great veteran coaching staff well equipped to handle this challenge. Joe and Sean have worked closely together to build our program, one of the most successful in the NFL in the past six years, and I have the fullest confidence that Joe will continue that success that Sean has brought us.”

It’s likely the Saints will go through the preseason and then choose another of their current assistants to open the season as the head coach. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael would seem the likely candidates. Spagnuolo has head-coaching experience, but is new to the Saints. The team could elect to go with Carmichael and let Spagnoulo focus solely on the defense. The Saints also could decide to keep Carmichael in his current role and let both coordinators focus on their side of the ball. In that scenario, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer could be the logical choice to step into a supervisory role.