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BillyC 12-14-2003 01:45 PM

Tough road ahead for Saints

Tough road ahead for Saints

Courier Sports Editor

Over the last three seasons, the New Orleans Saints have become the NFL’s version of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

You won’t find a bigger group of underachievers anywhere in the league.

While the Saints are still mathematically alive for a playoff berth, let’s be honest, it’s time to start looking at the future.

And there aren’t many teams whose future is surrounded by more questions than the Saints.

The first?

Who’s calling the shots, Mickey Loomis or Jim Haslett?

The biggest mistake made within the organization in the last three years came last year when owner Tom Benson made a Ruben Studdard-size blunder by firing general manager Randy Mueller right after he hauled in arguably the best draft class in team history.

Since then, some serious mistakes (no quality middle linebacker, the free-agent acquisitions of safety Tebucky Jones and cornerback Ashley Ambrose and this year’s draft class headlined by virtually invisible defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan) have been made in the player personnel department.

Who’s fault is it? Loomis, who replaced Mueller as GM, or Haslett, who has more input in player personnel decisions now?

Ask Loomis, and he’ll tell you these are Haslett’s guys.

Ask Haslett, and he’ll tell you Loomis is the GM.

Somebody has to take the weight.

Regardless, one thing is for sure: The Saints must find a better talent evaluator and let that person start running things.

Which brings us to our second question:

Is Haslett the right coach?

Look, I like Haslett. During the two years I covered him with the Saints, I never met a more candid and forthright coach. He always spoke from his heart and had no problem saying what was on his mind.

He’s fiery and emotional.

Maybe too emotional.

Haslett proved that he knows how to get a team to the playoffs. He did it his first year in New Orleans. Since then, his emotions -- too many fourth-down gambles and hasty two-point conversion attempts, and sticking with an injured Aaron Brooks instead of a healthy Jake Delhomme last season -- have gotten the better of him at times.

An emotional coach can lead to an inconsistent team and no one this side of Norman Bates is more inconsistent personality-wise than the Saints.

Either Haslett learns to hone in his emotions and start driving the team harder or Benson will have to eat the lion’s share of that four-year contract he gave to Haslett last year.

When it comes to emotions, no question draws more passion out of Saints fans than our final question:

Is Aaron Brooks the team’s cornerstone at quarterback?

There may be no bigger enigma in the NFL than Brooks, who can make all the throws, has strong stats, but has more ups and downs than a bad waterbed.

I often compare Brooks to Green Bay Packers future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. In his younger days, Favre showed he had the talent to be one the league’s best ever. He also threw a ton of interceptions -- 24 in 1993 -- and most of them of the bonehead variety.

Eventually Favre matured, won three MVP awards and led the Packers to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, winning it all in 1996.

In his third full season as the Saints’ starting quarterback, Brooks has yet to show he’s ready to take that next step.

It may be time to pull the plug on the experiment.

If the Saints decide to call it quits with Brooks, they’d better have a foolproof plan ready, because there aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL that are as physically gifted he is. Then again, good planning isn’t exactly what this franchise is known for.

The offseason is rapidly approaching, and whatever the answers are, the Saints better find them, and fast.

Because the fans’ patience isn’t as limitless as they think.

Courier sports editor Jon T. Stewart may be reached at 857-2239 or

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