On Monday Saints head coach Jim Haslett gave his final press conference of the 2003 season.
Q: Can you tell us what players need off-season surgeries?
A: "I can't give you the final rundown because it's going to be a bunch of them. We won't know until later in the week. We're going to have a bunch of guys getting minor procedures. Michael Lewis will probably get his ankle cleaned out. Kevin Houser will probably get his shoulder cleaned out. We're making sure. A lot guys will get MRIs today, tomorrow and Wednesday, Joe Horn, all the guys that have been injured are just going to get MRIs before they decide. The procedures will be done. If they need it, it will get done as soon as possible. I won't know until later in the week especially with the new year coming along."
Q: Can you discuss the exit interviews with players today?
A: "I dealt with every player individually."
Q: Did you get anything out of it?
A: "Yes, we talked about a number of things. We talked about obviously their future, the future of the team, what went wrong and what went right this year. Everybody was a little different. I spent more time with the veterans than the young guys. We did it all day starting at 7:30. We just got finished."
Q: What do you think of the ending?
A: "I'd say it's disappointing. Anytime you don't make the playoffs it's disappointing. If you look at the positives. You can always find positives. You start off 1-4, everybody hung together. I thought we played extremely hard through the season. We won seven of our last 11. Those four games we lost, the Tampa Bay, Carolina game, Jacksonville, we were a play here and a play there from winning two or three more. There are positives to take out of it. Obviously it's always the negatives if you don't make it to the postseason."
Q: Will yesterday's game carryover any?
A: "All I heard for the last two years was how bad we played in December. We played really well in December. We were 2-2. The 14-7 loss to Tampa Bay and the extra point against Jacksonville, we probably could have ultimately won them all. I thought we played really well in December the whole month. We played hard. Yesterday, we just happened to play one of our best games from a standpoint of execution. We didn't get a lot of penalties. They had a lot of pre-snap penalties. They did some things you really don't want to do in the postseason and we played well on defense. We played well on defense the last four games. We gave up 20 points. I think another part was the way the defense played. We have up like 20.8 points a game for the season, minus the Indy game, we were about 18, the second half of the season we were 17 and then the last four games we were 12, compared to the year before when we couldn't keep anybody under 20."
Q: Can you evaluate the overall performance of the defense this year?
A: "I thought the back end played really well minus Dale (Carter) and Mel (Mitchell). I thought Ashley (Ambrose) and Freddy (Thomas) played really well. Tebucky (Jones) really improved as the season came along, he probably played his best three games or four games at the end. Jay Bellamy was strong all year. The pass rush was good. I think the big thing that the people forget and I'll go back to two years ago. Two years ago we had Darren Howard at one end. We had La'Roi (Glover) and Joe Johnson, a pretty good defensive line, number one in the league in sacks. In a span of a month, we lost La'Roi and Joe Johnson and then all of a sudden you're minus Darren Howard and you replace them with two juniors (Charles Grant and Johnathan Sullivan) and it's going to take time for them to come along. I think Charles Grant and Sullivan are going to be good players. You just replaced two Pro Bowlers with two juniors coming out of college. It's not going to happen overnight. Those guys need to grow up. This is a big off-season for them and for this football team, because that's the group that really needs to take off this off-season."
Q: When you meet with all of these players today, have you made any decisions on their futures or does that take time?
A: "I think you have an idea and I expressed that with them today and some guys. I talked to one guy that is probably going to retire, I talked to some guys that don't know and I told them that if you're not in the plans, we'll let you know, if you are in the plans, we'll let you know, but for the most part, we didn't really get into that. We just talked in general."
Q: Is Jerry Fontenot going to retire?
A: "No, Jerry's not going to retire."
Q: The last couple of years of the off-season have had a lot of changes. Do you think this off-season will not contain as many changes?
A: "I hope so. I think that we're at that point where we don't need to make a lot of roster changes. I think we need continuity. I think the amount has been a little more than we've wanted the last couple of years. I think we're much better of than we have been."
Q: Do you agree with post game assessments of coaches and players that there has been enough changes and that things need to stay constant?
A: "I don't know what the players and coaches said per se, but I could agree with that."
Q: Do you expect changes to the coaching staff?
A: "That's something that we'll evaluate everything. We'll evaluate the coaches also like the players. We'll do that the next couple of days and when they get back."
Q: What are your priorities in retaining free agents?
A: "We've got a bunch of guys we'd like to have back, Darren Howard's a free agent, Fred Thomas, Terrelle Smith, Jerry Fontenot, Spencer Folau, Fakhir Brown, all of those guys would be guys we would like to have back. There's more, but those are just the guys off the top of my head."
Q: Is re-signing Darren Howard the number one priority?
A: "I don't know. I haven't ranked them yet. I know we have them listed upstairs. I would think that Darren Howard would be our number one priority."
Q: Was this year more difficult than perhaps the year when you went 7-9 due to the injuries?
A: "Seasons in the NFL are all difficult, so I really don't rank them one-two-three-four. It has been difficult, but I think our coaching staff does a great job dealing with the adversity part, dealing with injuries, making up for it. We lost our number one defensive player (Darren Howard) on the first game. We got him for five games with a cast on, he has five sacks. That will tell you a little bit about Darren. That's probably the most difficult thing, but everybody in the league has the same problem. It's a hard game. It's a game, you're going to have to expect. You have to deal with it."
Q: What do you tell players that ask if you're going to be back?
A: "No one asked me that. I just came down from Mr. Benson's office real quick. I asked him how it was going. He said good. He said, what are you going to tell them? I said what do you want me to tell them? He said, tell them we're moving forward, everything's great. I said, can I tell you we got a five year 25 million dollar deal? He says yes, tell them that. No, he just said tell them we're moving forward, we're going to try to get better, look at the whole process and move on."
Q: Have you looked at priorities in free agency and the draft?
A: "I don't know. We'll look at it. Off the top of my head, I say we need some more guys on defense. We'll take a look at it."
Q: Has it hurt having Donte' Stallworth on a limited basis the past two seasons?
A: "Donte' in a two year period has played about 33 percent of the time. He has really been in 12 games and he's scored 11 touchdowns. You see what kind of player he is when he plays. He makes a great catch when probably one of the better safeties in the league tries to blow him up and he makes a 225 pound guy bounce off of him and then he outraces the corner (Terence) Newman, who runs a 4.3. It tells you a little bit about the talent we have. Obviously we need him on the field."
Q: What can you do to have Stallworth on the field more?
A: "It's something I can't control. We'll do whatever we can to get him healthy and try to get him healthy if we have to hire a speed coach or a stretching coach or whatever. I don't know, but I think that the investment that we have in Donte' for the first two years hasn't paid off yet and I think obviously you've seen the kind of talent he has. Wayne Gandy told me today he didn't know Donte' could do this and he just watched him the last two weeks. I think it's important that we have him on the field, because he is the real deal when he plays."
Q: What is your explanation for this team not playing smart all the time?
A: "It probably has something to do with youth. You end up drafting, look at our draft the last few years, you draft three juniors. I don't know if you rethink that, but they're all going to be pretty good players someday, even Donte'. He makes a great catch yesterday, Great run. He throws the ball at (Terence) Newman. Why would you do that after what we went through two weeks ago? Hopefully they get out of this. The last three games we played pretty smart."
Q: How do you get your players to play better besides yelling and screaming at them?
A: "You just got to keep pounding it in their head and make sure that you have an emphasis all the time. I think the veterans can help. The veterans can help these young guys. We got some good guys like Wayne Gandy. Wayne does what he can do in that locker room and on the field. There's other guys that can step up and help."
Q: Why was your defense so aggressive yesterday?
A: We did it based on the fact that we didn't think our defensive line could go up against their offensive line. Flozell Adams and (Larry) Allen are probably two of the biggest men I've ever seen. We didn't think we could hold up with this lineup from toe to toe, so we decided we were going to move the linemen. We had decided that we were going to slant. We were going to hold the edges on Quincy Carter. He got out of the pocket one time. We didn't want to play all man to man on the speed receivers. We wanted to roll up to them and bump them. We did exactly what we wanted to do. On the touchdown they got on us, we had a full out blitz on. We didn't cover the back (Richie Anderson). We took a chance."
Q: Did anybody cover Richie Anderson?
A: "Nobody. He snuck through the line of scrimmage. It was good because our guys come off and they say number five. That's right. No one's on him. Nobody covers him. Our guys figured out right away they didn't have him covered."
Q: Does nobody cover the running back on that play?
A: "We want them to move back and protect, because we had two guys free. He snuck out to the line of scrimmage."
Q: Why don't you use that method more often?
A: "We try to take away their best players and based on who you're playing. We felt this week, their offensive line was too big for us to handle. We felt we had pretty good athletes up front with Charles (Grant), Sully (Johnathan Sullivan) and Darren (Howard), but we don't want them just sitting there. They're 360 pounds and 365 pounds and we're 275, 285. If we're playing somebody comparable, we might play toe to toe. If we play a team that has Terrell Owens, we'll try to take him out of the game, so everything you do is based on the opponent, what they have and what you have."
Q: What is your explanation for opponents stopping Deuce McAllister in the final four games?
A: "Everybody was going to take Deuce out of the game. Dallas, they did the same thing. They put in one more guy than we had most of the time and they're pretty good. They're pretty good up front. They come after it. They play pretty hard. Those linebackers are fast. They bring the wood. If you get their safeties, they come up and hit you. We knew it was going to be tough to throw the ball and it was going to be tough with Jacksonville. They're number one and two. It just happens to be that Deuce ran into the number two and three run defenses in the NFL."
Q: Will potential changes in the coaching staff come from you or Mr. Benson?
A: "They'll come from me."
Q: Do you hate the exit interviews with players?
A: "I hate them this time of the year. I wish it was about another three or four weeks from now. It was something we had to do. We just had to do it."
Q: Are you evaluating the assistant coaches?
A: "Yes, it's an ongoing process. We do it all year."
Q: What is your evaluation of Mike McCarthy and Rick Venturi?
A: "They've done a good job. When you hold teams to 20 points in this league you have a chance to win most games. We're number 11 in the league in offense, number one in third down efficiency, number three in red zone. Our problem is that we didn't score the amount of points we scored the year before. The year before, I think we're about 100 points less than the year before, but take into account, that at this time last year. Donte' (Stallworth) had eight touchdowns and now he had three and Michael (Lewis) had four and he's got one and John (Carney) missed eight field goals, that's 100 points right there, so you add all those up and you kind of figure out where the points went and for us to score, we're a big play offense. We can run the ball and do some good things, but we need to have Donte', Jerome (Pathon) and Joe (Horn) on the field."
Q: Can you evaluate Michael Lewis' season?
A: "Obviously this season isn't as good as last year. Obviously he broke the all-time record in return yardage. A product of that was we weren't stopping anybody and getting a lot of opportunities. You know, I thought he was consistent, nothing spectacular, I think we can do better, a lot of young guys, a lot of change, a lot of people on the kickoff return, punt return (units). It probably wasn't as good as he would have liked it or as I would have liked it."
Q: Can you evaluate Aaron Brooks' season?
A: "You take away the fumbles and everything else was outstanding. 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, almost 60 percent completion. It doesn't get much better than that. He finished third in the NFC in passer rating. Obviously it's going to be skewed by the fumbles."
Q: Wayne Gandy said today that critics are trying to mold Aaron into a different person than he is, would you agree with that?
A: "He's not that way, neither was Joe Montana. He's a laid back type of guy and just did his job. Not everybody's Brett Favre, not everybody's Rich Gannon, that's how those guys are. He's Aaron Brooks."
Q: Was the offense the biggest disappointment this year?
A: "No, I'd probably say special teams, because I don't think you could do what we did on special teams last year and duplicate it, but the thing that hurt us was the missed extra points, the blocked field goal, the blocked punt hurt us in key situations. The blocked field goal, we can get within a score of Philadelphia, the blocked punt in Tampa Bay, the extra point, I would say that area."
Q: Can some of this disappointments be attributed to the fact that many of your starters were forced to play special teams?
A: "You got to take them from somewhere and we ended up putting a lot of starters on special teams which is not great because you got them playing on offense or defense, now their playing more on special teams. That's something I commend the guys for and from their end nobody complained about and they just did it. They did a nice job. Derrick Rodgers played a lot, Sedrick Hodge, all those guys came in and played a lot of special teams."
Q: Can you discuss Aaron Brooks' observation about the lack of professionalism of some players?
A: "You got a lot of young guys, a lot of young guys don't know what it takes yet to win in the league. That's why I'm hoping this off-season a lot of these guys will step to the plate and get better. The classic example is Boo Williams. The first year he had no clue what was going on. He ran around didn't understand, everything was great. The second year we got a little bit better and then he breaks through this year. He's a classic example of a younger guy growing up to be a good player. There's a growing period."
Q: How did the AstroPlay surface in the Superdome work out?
A: Our players love it. Obviously it's something you have to get used to. It's night and day from the old stuff."
Q: Did it affect your kicking game?
A: "I think it affects everybody's kicking game. It's not Astroturf where kickers put the ball down, everything's smooth, nothing's wrong, they got a free kick. It's like kicking on grass. It's almost identical."