NEW ORLEANS — Saints coach Dennis Allen won’t hold a victory parade if he beats his former team this weekend when the Saints host the Las Vegas Raiders.
There could be some personal satisfaction in a win Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) at New Orleans for Allen, who was signed by the then-Oakland Raiders in January 2012 and played four games in his third season after an 8-28 record.
It would also keep the Saints (2-5) in the hunt for the NFC South title, where they are currently just 1.5 games out of first place despite being in last place. The Raiders (2-4), like the Saints, have struggled under a new coach — in their case Josh McDaniels.
But even if the Saints beat the Raiders, it won’t prove much about Allen’s abilities as a head coach. He still has a long way to go to raise the bar in New Orleans this season and show that he is better than his current career record (10-33).
His first season as Saints manager was a mix of problems, with a long list of injuries and poor play from his veterans.
Both the Saints and Allen preached continuity after he was hired, bringing back most of the coaching staff from last season. If things go wrong in New Orleans, he won’t be able to cite the excuses he had in Oakland, where Allen was a 39-year-old first-time head coach working for a new general manager and owner.
“I think I was ready to be a head coach,” said Allen, now 50. “And there are definitely a lot of things happening that you may not have anticipated. But I don’t know if I was ready to be a head coach there.
WHEN ALLEN WAS announced to be Sean Payton’s successor in New Orleans on February 8, he raised some eyebrows.
Amy Trask, who served as CEO of the Raiders from 2007 to 2013, was among the doubters.
“A number of players, and by number I mean a significant number of players, told me they didn’t believe Dennis treated them like adults, like professionals. [while in Oakland]”, Trask recently told ESPN.
Trask, who worked with Allen in his first season at Oakland, hasn’t held back his feelings about him over the years, joking in a 2020 interview that Allen’s biggest contribution to the Raiders was how his Saints’ defense played against them in a 34-24 loss in 2020.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Allen said before the season. “I don’t agree with his, you know, and I’m not one to publicly express my opinion of others.”
Former Raiders offensive tackle Khalif Barnes, who played for the Raiders from 2009 to 2015 and also spent a season at New Orleans in 2016, said he never felt Allen lost the locker room in Oakland, noting “he got into a hairy situation.”
“You’re not going to get along with everyone. … The experience could be totally different,” Barnes said.
A few months before Allen was hired in Oakland, Raiders owner Mark Davis had taken over, following the death of his father, Al Davis. Allen had only one year of experience as coordinator, while new general manager Reggie McKenzie had no experience at that level.
“I gave Reggie the option of bringing in his own head coach, which was the option of having some sort of working relationship,” Davis said in January. “It didn’t work so well back then. I think it was because they were two young guys working together, but they really didn’t have the experience to lead a football team.
ALLEN SUPPORTERS SAY he never got a fair shot from the Raiders. Former Allen defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said things are going to “take a while in this building.”
The Raiders at that time didn’t have a Pro Bowl draft pick until 2014, when they took on linebacker Khalil Mac in the first round and quarterback Derek Carr in the second, just months before Allen was fired.
“He couldn’t reap the benefits,” Tarver said.
Carr, a three-time Pro Bowler, is still with the Raiders and entering the game had some kind words for the coach who gave him a chance.
“[Allen] and I still have a great relationship to this day,” Carr said. “And I still talk to her and things like that — obviously not this week and all that stuff, but we’ve always stayed in touch, we’ve always been close. I love him, I loved having him.”
Carr also expressed his gratitude to Allen for replacing him Matt Schaub in 2014 as a rookie.
“He made the decision,” Barnes said. “Schaub had fallen, and he made the decision after the fourth pre-season game [when] he saw Derek play against the Seahawks, he was the one who actually made the decision to kick Derek out and throw him into the fire on the spot. So he had a good impulse and a good decision.
Saints assistant offensive line coach Zach Strief, who also played for the organization from 2006 to 2017, said the general consensus about Allen’s tenure in Oakland was that he had “no chance”.
“And everyone in football would say he has no chance. That’s what it is,” Strief said during training camp. “Now he’s at a place where there’s a ton of talent. … It’s a very different circumstance, and he has experience of the mistakes that were made there.
Trask acknowledged that there were struggles in Oakland and emphasized that she believed in giving others the leeway to grow from their mistakes. She said if Allen had grown from that experience, the Saints would have seen it firsthand when they rehired him as a senior defensive assistant in 2015.
“Just as I made mistakes in the early years of my career, and learned from those mistakes and grew from those mistakes, he may have,” Trask said. “The Saints…were at the forefront of this growth. I strongly believe that you can learn from your mistakes, you can grow at work, you can grow at work.
THE SAINTS ARE after a 42-34 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 7 Thursday Night Football, the most points they have surrendered since a 48-46 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in 2019.
Allen’s vaunted defense hasn’t been seen this year, with players missing tackles and giving up explosive plays. The Saints are one of the most penalized teams and have a -10 turnover rate, the worst in the league.
The Saints have given away the ball a league-high 16 times this season. While the defense is tied for fifth in fumble recoveries with five, it’s also tied for last with just one interception. It’s a stark contrast to the Raiders, who are tied with the Cardinals for second-fewest gifts (five).
Injuries aside, however, Allen admits some of those issues don’t have an immediate fix.
“There’s not this magic pill, this magic formula,” Allen said when asked about problem solving. “I think we all live in a microwave society and we want to see things change right away. And listen, we’re working as hard as we can to fix it.
“You have to keep working on it, keep working on it, keep working on it, and as you do, the results may not be immediate, but the results will eventually come.”
Potential long-term issues for the Saints are also looming, with no first-round pick in 2023, no long-term quarterback plan and in-flight contracts for older and injured veterans. Overcoming some of those issues and getting the Saints back to the playoffs could be a daunting task without the right person in charge.
Allen’s players believe that person is him.
“We have the right guys in this locker room,” the running back Mark Ingram II said. “We have the right guys in this team, the right coaching staff. We believe in each other and obviously know that there will be a lot of outside noise. A lot of people outside the building are trying to pull us apart and bring us down, but we know what we have in this locker room.
With 10 games left in the season, Allen’s leadership will certainly come under scrutiny. Right now, he said, the team is “frustrated but not discouraged”.
“Everything we want to accomplish is always… right in front of us,” Allen said. “I’m fully confident this team will rack up a winning streak and turn things around.”
And while Allen is calling for a game against the franchise that gave him his first head coaching job won’t be emotional, the running back Alvin Kamara had words to support his coach.
“We’re going to kick their ass and make DA feel good,” Kamara said.
Well, that’s one way to get a triumphant return.