It’s no secret that the Saints’ offensive line had some difficulties this past season. While many are eager to point the finger at the players for what went wrong, there is a much more likely cause when you look beyond the surface.
During the 2009 through 2012 seasons the black & gold had a consistently dominant offensive line. Despite the loss of starting tackles Jammal Brown, Jon Stinchcomb, guard Carl Nicks and center Jonathan Goodwin over that time period, they managed to finish each of the four seasons in the top five for fewest sacks allowed. The constant through this time period was offensive line coach Aaron Kromer and his system. When he left after the 2012 season to become the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears he took starting tackle Jermon Bushrod. The void in the starting lineup was filled by promoting backup Charles Brown. With four returning starters and a replacement who had been with the team for three years, it would seem that the players should be able to maintain roughly the same level of performance as they had been managing. However, in one season the perennial top five offensive line dropped to tenth in the league. With such a significant drop following a minimal change to the personnel, it only makes sense to look at the coaching.
When Kromer decided to leave the Big Easy the team decided to try filling the position the same way that they did in 2009. Bret Ingalls was promoted from running backs coach to offensive line coach. One thing the Saints organization and the entire Who Dat Nation learned from the 2012 season though is that while “next man up” is a good philosophy for players, it doesn’t work as well with coaches. While promoting from within paid off well the first time around, the results this time have been far more underwhelming in year one. Perhaps it’s time to look outside the organization for a solution.
Among the coaches that were let go following the 2013 season was Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak. In light of his difficulties finding a new head coaching position, he has started taking interviews for his old position with new teams. Before going 22-26 in three years at the helm in Nashville, he developed quite a reputation as an offensive line coach. In fourteen seasons running Tennessee’s offensive line his units finished in the top ten for fewest sacks nine times, including five top five finishes.
As a former NFL guard himself, Munchak brings first hand understanding of how the offensive line works. In his 12 year career with the Houston Oilers, he earned 10 Pro-Bowl selections and 9 All-Pro selections. He retired in July 1994, and less than four months later so was his number. In 2001, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Experience and expertise of his level could go a long way toward effectively running an offensive line built around its guards.
It’s understandable that the Saints would try to find success in hiring an offensive line coach the same way that paid off so well for them last time. The results, however, have not been the same this time around. Perhaps it’s time to leave the “next man up” philosophy to the players and look outside the facility for the right coaching fit. With his history on the field and along the sidelines, Munchak could be that fit.