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Saints dig the way Vitt inspires them

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Saints dig the way Vitt inspires them By Bill Coats ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH 11/11/2007 On a steamy day in June, the New Orleans Saints gathered at their practice field to bid a final farewell to their 2006 success. With assistant ...

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Old 11-11-2007, 08:47 PM   #1
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Saints dig the way Vitt inspires them

Saints dig the way Vitt inspires them
By Bill Coats

On a steamy day in June, the New Orleans Saints gathered at their practice field to bid a final farewell to their 2006 success. With assistant coach Joe Vitt officiating, a "coffin" containing reminders of the 10-6 record and NFC South title was buried 6 feet deep along the sideline.

Some 3½ months later, the Saints were 0-4. "We might want to dig that back up, huh," coach Sean Payton told reporters. So the "corpse" was exhumed.

Now the Saints are 4-4. "Must be voodoo," said Vitt, laughing.

Leave it to Vitt to come up with a unique way to hammer home the point that what happened a year ago has no relevance to this season.

That's the same attitude Vitt has adopted for Sunday's game against the Rams, a team that he ran for 11 games in 2005 after head coach Mike Martz was sidelined with endocarditis.

"This is just our next game," Vitt said. "That doesn't mean that I don't have a strong attachment to those guys that are still there. I love those guys, and I couldn't be more proud of them for the way they worked for me when I was there.

"But I've got to keep the emotion out of it and try to win a game."

Vitt, 53, also insists that he harbors no resentment toward the Rams organization, which declined to interview him after Martz was fired in January 2006. "I learned a long time ago to only worry about the things I can control. And I had no control over that," Vitt said. "Life's too short. I moved on."

Payton gave Vitt the same responsibilities he had in his two seasons with the Rams: assistant head coach and linebackers coach. "I think very highly of Joe," Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. "He taught me a lot that I still carry over. I attribute a lot of my success to him and his coaching."

Payton and Vitt helped orchestrate the NFL's feel-good story of '06.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, the Saints relocated to San Antonio and played "home" games there, in Baton Rouge, La., and even one in East Rutherford, N.J. The circumstances facing coach Jim Haslett — now the Rams' defensive coordinator — were unprecedented and insurmountable.

The Saints went 3-13, and Haslett was fired. Enter Payton, a former quarterbacks coach with the Dallas Cowboys. Free-agent quarterback Drew Brees arrived from San Diego, Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush fell to them in the draft, and the Saints — back home in the Superdome — suddenly were viable.

"We caught a lot of people by surprise," Vitt said. "We caught fire, and you know how it is in this league. Once you get on a roll, you gain confidence, your morale's sky high, and anything's possible."

The Saints started 5-1, an uplifting development for a city in the throes of a massive and painstaking recovery. "Seeing the devastation here and with all the people forced from their homes, an attachment developed not only from the fans to the players, but the players to the fans," Vitt said. "They were obviously instrumental in our success."

Vitt received plaudits for taking a trio of unheralded linebackers — Scott Fujita, Scott Shanle and Marc Simoneau — and turning them into a centerpiece for an improved defense.

"It was a fun year," Vitt said. "But the past doesn't dictate the future. We started 0-4 until we got our act squared away. Hopefully we're back on course now."

The Rams were 2-3 in '05 when Martz was stricken with a bacterial infection of a heart valve. Vitt was named interim head coach on Oct. 11; a week later, he was on the sideline in Indianapolis, directing the Rams vs. the unbeaten Colts on Monday Night Football.

"So it wasn't like I could just stick my foot in the water," Vitt said. "I had to dive in."

The Rams bolted to a 17-0 first-quarter lead but eventually succumbed 45-28. They went 4-7 under Vitt to finish 6-10. Still, Vitt had a ball.

"It was one of the most enjoyable times of my life," he said.

The experience also piqued his interest in becoming a full-time head coach. "I enjoyed being a manager of people, I enjoyed talking to the team, I enjoyed managing games," Vitt said. "I would love to (be a head coach); I really would. We'll just see."

Yet after 29 consecutive years as an NFL assistant, Vitt remains content in that role.

"Me being a head coach or not being a head coach isn't going to dictate the successes or failures of my life or my career," he said. "I love (coaching) more today than I did when I first got into it. The older I get, the more I like being around young people. ...

"And, hey, I can't sing or dance. So what else am I going to do?"
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