Ditka Hired to Turn Hill into Mountain
Mike Ditka, saying “life to me is about challenges and climbing mountains,” Tuesday undertook the daunting task of rebuilding the New Orleans Saints, a franchise that has had only five winning seasons in its 30-year history and is the only NFL team never to win a playoff game.
The announcement of Ditka’s hiring came eight days after he met with Saint owner Tom Benson in San Antonio to discuss the possibility of returning to the game. Ditka, 57, has been out of coaching since he was fired by the Chicago Bears after the 1992 season after 11 seasons and a victory in Super Bowl XX.
Ditka, an NBC studio analyst the last four years, was offered the job Jan. 20 and Tuesday morning signed a three-year contract worth between $5.5 million and $6 million. He and Benson said they decided last week not to announce his hiring until after Super Bowl XXXI so they wouldn’t divert attention from the NFL’s marquee game.
The Saints initially wanted Ditka to sign a five-year deal, but he said he wanted no part of that. “If I can’t do it in three years,” he said, “I shouldn’t be here. The cupboard is not bare. . . . We’ve got to create an attitude that says, ‘Why not us?’ ”
Ditka has hired Danny Abramowicz as offensive coordinator and former Giant secondary coach Zaven Yaralian as defensive coordinator. Rick Venturi, who took over as the Saints’ interim coach when Jim Mora resigned, will stay on as assistant head coach in charge of linebackers, as will special-teams coach Bobby April.
Ditka clearly is rolling the dice in jumping back into the game, particularly with a team that finished 3-13 last season and is 0-4 in playoff games.
He also said he was not particularly proud of some of his behavior in Chicago and admitted, “I lost the football team my last year [when the Bears went 5-11 in ’92]. I lost them in Minnesota, and when I lost them, I shouldn’t have been there.”
He said he regretted some of his sideline tirades, especially in that Minnesota game when he was furious with quarterback Jim Harbaugh for calling an audible on a pass that was intercepted in a 21-20 loss.
“When I saw how angry and how stupid I looked, I wondered why I did it,” he said.
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A look at how Mike Ditka’s record with Chicago compares to other coaches in New Orleans Saints’ history:
Coach (Years) W-L-T Pct Tom Fears (1967-70) 13-34-2 .286 J.D. Roberts (1970-72) 7-25-3 .243 John North (1973-75) 11-23-0 .324 Ernie Hefferle (1975) 1-7-0 .125 Hank Stram (1976-77) 7-21-0 .250 Dick Nolan (1978-80) 15-29-0 .341 Dick Stanfel (1980) 1-3-0 .250 Bum Phillips (1981-85) 27-42-0 .391 Wade Phillips (1985) 1-3-0 .250 Jim Mora (1986-96) 93-74-0 .557 Rick Venturi (1996) 1-7-0 .125 Mike Ditka (1982-92) 106-62 .631