Saints politely keep Nielsen from LSU

Scooter Hobbs

OK, folks, let’s move along. Nothing much to see here.

Admittedly, it looked kind of juicy at first glance, a little feud perhaps between Louisiana’s two main football entities, the Saints and LSU.

But both should be able to move on after the state’s NFL team basically blocked Orgeron’s desire to hire the Saints defensive line coach to become the new defensive coordinator at the state’s Flagship Football U.

Orgeron apparently thought he had an old friend, Ryan Nielsen, locked up for what will be a very important hire for the Tigers, who forgot how to play defense last season and suffered greatly for it.

Saints head coach Sean Payton basically said, Not so fast …

Maybe even … and stay in your lane.

It had potential for some bitterness. Maybe they could meet in LaPlace or Gonzales, maybe Donaldsonville, pick a roadside beer joint and duke it out for Nielsen’s hand.

That would be some high entertainment if either side had been so inclined. The two biggest fan bases in the state bickering over bragging rights to an assistant coach.

It’s much more petty than LSU fans complaining that the Saints never seem to draft Tigers players despite plenty of choices most every year.

But, more likely, it was just a little misunderstanding.

Orgeron certainly sounded like he thought he had his man while chatting up radio stations Sunday and Monday.

Can’t blame Orgeron for trying.

And what Payton actually may have been saying was: nothing personal, just business.

Never mind that most fans for both teams — to say nothing of the multitudes who are fans of both — wouldn’t have known Nielsen from a peanut vendor before last weekend.

Suddenly he became the hottest, must-have coaching name in Louisiana.

Orgeron, who was once on Payton’s staff, has poked around the Saints’ complex before, of course.

Most notably he went in and plucked Joe Brady, another total unknown at the time, who eventually got a lot of credit for LSU’s 2019 national championship.

But Payton not only signed off on that one, it was he who suggested to Orgeron that Brady might just introduce the Tigers to 21st century offense.

Maybe it’s one thing to come in and grab an assistant to the assistants, as Brady was. It’s quite another to take a top-line assistant who Payton really needs, particularly with his once-stable staff already facing major upheaval after overtures from other suitors.

Mainly, it looks like Orgeron underestimated how much Payton wanted to keep Nielsen.

Easy mistake to make.

And Nielsen seemed like a natural fit.

Nielsen has been with the Saints for the last four years, but the rest of his coaching career was in college. And Orgeron was his position coach when he was a defensive lineman at Southern Cal.

A big break in his coaching career came when Orgeron hired him while head coach at Ole Miss.

Seemed like a natural move to LSU.

But Payton and the Saints enforced a provision of Nielsen’s contract which didn’t allow him to break the terms to leave the Saints for a college job.

My guess is that if Nielsen really wanted to be at LSU, he’d have found some way around that clause and out of that contract. It sounds like an odd clause to begin with. Maybe they were anticipating the close relationship between Nielsen and a coach 70 miles away.

Still, they probably could have worked something out if Nielsen had pushed the matter. Would Payton really want him around if he didn’t want to be there?

But it did give Nielsen the leverage to get a raise and a promotion to assistant head coach. If the Saints really wanted to be jerks about it, they could have just pointed to the contract and left it at that.

The whole “assistant head coach” phenomena has always seemed like a trumped up title — a way to show appreciation to a valued staff member without actually pulling the trigger on a bona fine coordinator spot.

And knows? Nielsen may yet get that defensive coordinator job with the Saints. Reports have current coordinator Dennis Allen talking with the Philadelphia Eagles about their head coaching job. So it could still come open.

Meanwhile, Orgeron will find a defensive coordinator somewhere.

No hard feelings. Hopefully with no damage to what has been a good relationship between him, LSU and the Saints.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.comScooter Hobbs (American Press)

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