How much do you think the leaders of your offense and defense have to step up this year in the absence of your head coach?
“It’s amazing. I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to have been here from day one where they took the program over after (Hurricane) Katrina and I would say and a lot of you guys have been to every practice and know this team very well…I would say, ’06, ’07 and ’08 this was a coach-driven football team. I think we’ve seen the transformation of our football team in the Super Bowl week in ’09 that it became a player-driven team. The leadership of our football team really held our players accountable. When you talk about the players that we have on our roster now and their leadership ability, we have a lot of players that on our roster that have won 41 games over the last three years. We have a lot of players on this team that have been to the playoffs three straight years. We have a lot of players on our team that have participated in a Super Bowl and won a World Championship, so the leadership and the accountability that they have to one another and their commitment to winning is going to be critical this year. I would say that this was a coach-driven team that has been transformed into a player-driven team. I think that’s exciting.”
Through some of the happenings, how do you think you were able to land free agents like Curtis (Lofton), (Brodrick) Bunkley and (Ben) Grubbs, guys who were highly thought of?
“I think the players in the National Football League talk amongst themselves more than any professional sports group in the nation. I think there’s a common bond that players have because of the competitive nature and how hard the game is. I think these players clearly knew what kind of program they were coming to, that they teach, motivate and inspire and that they have strong core beliefs. For those players to come here, I think speaks volumes for the organization that us and Mr. Benson have built.”
At what positions are you training the linebackers at when you start installing the defense?
“Right now we’re lining up David (Hawthorne) at the Will, Curtis Lofton at the Mike and (Scott) Shanle at the Sam. These are going to be movable parts obviously. Chris Chamberlain is coming to us. He’s been in this system. He knows both outside positions. We re-signed Jonathan Casillas today. He’s a Will for us. All this can change. These linebackers have to cross-train in case someone gets hurt. That right now is the starting point.”
Would Lofton and Vilma have a second position, since they both are at the Mike?
“If Jonathan was healthy right now, it would probably be Lofton at Sam when we talked about that.”
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Saints after all this?
“I apologize. I don’t watch all the stuff on TV. I don’t read the papers anymore. I just don’t. Number one, I don’t have the time. I know we don’t have any misconceptions. I know our staff doesn’t have any misconceptions and I know our players don’t have any misconceptions. We are what we are and really that’s all that matters to me and I know what our fans are built of. I know our fans have been there for us and will be there for us and their support during this time has been unbelievable for us. I can’t worry about all the perceptions about us right now. I worry about the players that we have on this team, the people we have in this building and our fans.”
You have told us what Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis mean to you and what the game means to you. Does this affect you on a personal level to watch what they’ve gone through?
“Yes, absolutely. They’re my friends. We have a tight organization here. When somebody in this building hurts, there are a lot of people that hurt for them and I’ve never come into an organization when I had to in ’06 and saw the toughness and resiliency of the people in this organization that were coming home from San Antonio and their homes were destroyed and they were living in FEMA trailers. It’s something. Not only do I feel that way about Sean and Mickey, but our whole organization does.”
Will you be concerned that when Sean’s players deliver a hard hit this year, it will be looked at differently?