The headline of the Saints' offseason coaching changes will be the loss of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who leaves New Orleans after three seasons to join his close personal friend Jeff Fisher on his new coaching staff in St. Louis.
Williams, whose aggressive defensive playcalling fueled the Saints' title run in 2009, was exposed late in the past two seasons. Most recently, an overload blitz was countered perfectly by the 49ers offense, who ran designed quarterback run with Alex Smith away from the pressure, scoring improbably from 25 yards out. Offenses also countered the aggressive tendencies by running athletic tight ends against the Saints' safeties with consistent success.
Head coach Sean Payton surrendered a portion of his salary, later recompensed, to sway Williams into signing with the Saints in 2009. With Payton's speciality and focus on the offense, Williams had total control of the defense. The Saints defenses in those three years ranked 25th, 17th, and 24th in yards allowed, not aided by an offense that forced many opponents into shootouts. In terms of points, the Saints ranked 20th, 7th and 13th in the league in Williams' three seasons.
Despite Williams' aggressive attacks, the Saints collected pedestrian sack totals - 35, 33 and 33 in Williams' three seasons. The most mystifying stat being S Roman Harper's 12 sacks in those three regular seasons, including 7.5 this season. Harper led all defensive backs in sacks this season.
But strong safety Harper was also in the spotlight in the Saints' last two playoff losses, surrendering game-breaking touchdowns to opposing tight ends. On Saturday in San Francisco, rising star Malcolm Jenkins at free safety joined him on the victim list, repeatedly left on an island and beaten by 49ers TE Vernon Davis.
Williams leaves the Saints without a defensive czar. One of his more promising understudies left last season - when the Denver Broncos plucked secondary coach Dennis Allen to be their defensive coordinator. Allen is now already linked to head coaching jobs.
UPDATE: It is expected that Gregg's son Blake Williams will accompany his father to St. Louis. The agreement to hire Blake was one of the key conditions of Gregg's decision to come to New Orleans in 2009.