Aaron Kromer will try to 'hold the fort'
METAIRIE, La. -- Saints offensive linemen Zach Strief and Jahri Evans tried -- and failed -- to think of a time when offensive line coach Aaron Kromer lost his temper and ripped into his charges during a game.
They've seen Kromer agitated by letdowns or mental lapses in practice, of course. But as far as they could recall, the man who will become the figurehead of New Orleans' coaching staff during the opening six games of the regular season has always responded to in-game adversity more rationally than emotionally.
"He's certainly a very calm sideline presence on game day, which players love," said Strief, the Saints' starting right tackle. "The last thing you want, when you're in the heat of it and you're trying to do as well as you can, is to have someone come and tell you, you didn't.
"I don't need someone to tell me when I got beat ... and (Kromer) is very good at saying, 'What happened? What did he do? What can you do differently?' He talks through things and he allows you to kind of figure it out, and it keeps us a lot more consistent and level headed. I think he'll bring a lot of that to the sideline."
Kromer won't formally take over for assistant head coach Joe Vitt on a day-to-day basis until Vitt's bounty-related suspension kicks in at the start of Week 1 of the regular season. However, the Saints have directed Kromer to get used to the role of head coach during the final two preseason games, which are Saturday night against Houston and Thursday night at Tennessee.
Vitt took on head-coaching duties when Sean Payton's season-long suspension began in mid-April. Vitt is expected to resume those duties when he returns, which won't be until Week 8 because the Saints have a bye in Week 6.
Kromer was a candidate to fill two head-coaching vacancies last offseason. He was lined up to interview with St. Louis before the Rams hired Jeff Fisher. He also interviewed with Indianapolis, which hired Chuck Pagano.
While Kromer said he maintains aspirations to be an NFL head coach, he does not view his temporary assignment with New Orleans as an audition.
"I'm going to hold this thing over until Joe Vitt gets back. I'm going to hold the fort," Kromer said. "It's important that Drew Brees feels this is Sean Payton's program. This is the way we do things. This is the way we did it in 2009 to win the Super Bowl. This is the way we did it in 2011 to win 14 football games. This is the formula that we have followed to have success. ... I'm a fill-in for the fill-in."
While Kromer widely was expected to be Vitt's fill-in, the Saints did not announce that until Wednesday night.
There were several qualified candidates on staff, but in the end, Kromer seemed to make the most sense because he is close to Payton, and because appointing him allows offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. and new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to keep their focus narrowed more on game planning and play calling for their units.
"We had a bunch of great candidates," Brees said. "Really, there was no wrong choice. There was a bunch of right choices."
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Kromer came to New Orleans in 2008 after stints in Oakland and Tampa Bay.
"Krome is very knowledgeable of the game plan, the personnel, what we're trying to do," Evans said. "He's been here for a while, so I think everything should move smoothly."
Linebacker Scott Shanle called Kromer "a natural choice."
"It's going to be easier for him because he has been here so long," Shanle said. "It's not like it's his first year or second year, trying to learn what we do. It's fully ingrained in him what we do and how we do it."
Shanle is curious, however, about whether Kromer or another coach will take the lead on pre-game speeches, a role Vitt has filled even when Payton was around.
In any event, Kromer went to great lengths not to portray his role as that of an autocratic leader.
"It's going to be a collaborative effort," Kromer said. "I'll do some checks and balances and try to keep the rudder of the ship straight, and everybody will handle their department.
"It's going to be very important in this situation that it's a group effort, that Steve Spagnuolo, Pete Carmichael and (special teams coordinator) Greg McMahon feel like we come to every conclusion as a group," Kromer continued. "If it's a defensive decision, Steve Spagnuolo is the most expert in this building. If it's an offensive decision, Pete Carmichael is the expert in this building, and the same with special teams with Greg McMahon."
Strief said Kromer always has been collaborative, even in how he relates to players.
For example, Strief said, Kromer has never been the type to strictly adhere to one type of blocking technique for offensive linemen. Rather, he is adaptable, allowing each lineman to maximize his individual strengths as an athlete.
And Strief figures it is only a matter of time before other teams realize Kromer has the makings of a full-time head coach.
"Unfortunately, I fear we will lose coach Kromer here eventually," Strief said. "He's one of the up-and-coming coaches in this league. I think he'll do a great job."
NotesWhile CB Marquis Johnson (knee), DE Turk McBride (ankle) and rookie WR Nick Toon (foot) all have been limited by injuries this week, Vitt did not rule them out for Saturday night's preseason game. Vitt added that newly acquired LB Barrett Ruud, who practiced the past two days, might see some action. ... The sometimes combustible Vitt, who has joked that talking to reporters has been the hardest part of filling in for Payton, offered a facetious response when asked if he'll be sad to cede those duties to Kromer. "Yes, it is going to make me sick," he answered.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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