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Normalcy Restored: Joe Vitt back to best coaching role with Saints

Joe Vitt gives instructions to the linebackers at minicamp for the New Orleans Saints (Photo: Parker Waters).Joe Vitt gives instructions to the linebackers at minicamp for the New Orleans Saints (Photo: Parker Waters).

NEW ORLEANS -- With an end to the Bounty scandal, venerable New Orleans Saints defensive assistant Joe Vitt is back to being his old self as the loyal, trusted lieutenant in Sean Payton's Black and Gold army.

No more daily press conferences for Vitt, no more politically-correct coach speak, no more playing Payton's stand-in during a time of unprecedented crisis for Tom Benson's franchise.

Vitt now can concentrate on what he does best, coachin' ball and being there exclusively for his players through thick and thin, the good times and the bad.

"Last year, we kind of had our moments where Joe would grab me and say, 'Man, I haven't seen you in a while,' and we'd kind of hug it it out and talk a little bit,'' Saint quarterback Drew Brees said between minicamp workouts Tuesday. "Obviously, last year things were a little different.

"He's been a ball coach for a long time. He loves the game. He brings fire and a passion and we all love playing for him. Despite the circumstances that thrust him in that role, I think that being back to just Joe Vitt, linebacker coach and assistant head coach, it helps and everybody's back into their role now.''

Saints defensive line coach Bill Johnson shares that sentiment.

"You cut Joe Vitt up, all you're going to find is a 1,000 little football coaches coming out,'' Johnson said. "He loves to teach, He loves to motivate and inspire. He's not clerical.

"He did a great job with all those things last season, but when you cut him up he loves to be on the grass, he loves to be in the classroom, he loves to be with his players. Joe Vitt is a classic football coach, a real classic.''

Truth be told, Vitt did not really coach a down of defensive football last season, sandwiching his off-season, pre-season and in-season duties as interim head coach around a season-opening six-game suspension for his role in the Bounty scandal.

Those who know Vitt best say he is finished talking about last season, that he no longer wants to be the team's spin doctor, that he crammed a lifetime of addressing the media into nine forgettable months as "the voice'' for a troubled organization.

Vitt declined to be interviewed for this story for all the aforementioned reasons.

"After you get back all the people we missed last year, it feels like we were walking one-legged last year,'' Johnson said. "It was like we were missing pieces to a 1,000-piece puzzle last season, Football is football but there's more to it than Xs and Os. It's energy, it's motivation, it's a culture. It's all those things that we missed without our good people doing what they do best.''

No one is happier to have Vitt back in his old role as linebackers coach than Saints' first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who's installing a new 3-4 scheme this offseason.

"The big thing for me is I have the best assistant coach in football already here this side of Dick LeBeau,'' Ryan said of Vitt, a veteran of 35 seasons with eight NFL teams. "That's like getting a first round pick.''

Several linebackers say they notice a palpable difference on the field and in the classroom with Vitt now focused solely on his position group.

"I love Joe; he's a players' coach,'' Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "He's a great motivator. He's fired up to be back with us and you can see it in his individual drills. They are some of the toughest I've ever gone through. The guys who have been around in the past say I haven't seen anything yet.''

"He's back doing what he loves, coaching 'backers,'' Saints linebacker David Hawthorne said. "He's bringing passion back to the room. He's a guy with great wisdom, and he couldn't give that knowledge to us as much as he wanted to last year because he had other responsibilities. But he always had one foot in the door to our meeting room. So, we're glad to have him back 100 percent.''

Saints linebacker Will Herring said players and coaches were pulled in different directions last season for a variety of reasons, making for a wild roller-coaster ride on and off the field.

"There's a comfort level getting Coach Vitt back in the room with us,'' Herring said. "Last year he was needed elsewhere. So to have him back is definitely a positive, not only from an Xs and Os standpoint but psychologically as well.

"But we also know that we're not going to automatically win 12, 13 games just because things are returning to normal around here. We have to have a sense or urgency, players and coaches, and we do.''

Johnson said the return of Payton and Vitt to their normal coaching roles doesn't guarantee success this coming season but "I know our chances are getting better.''

"This team knows the formula of how to win,'' Johnson said. "I think our record here shows that. Now what the results are going to be, who in the heck knows in this crazy business. But I feel good about it.''

 

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