When former Saints coach Mike Ditka urged the team to trade nine draft choices in 1999 so it could move up and select Heisman winner Ricky Williams, Ditka said the deal had to get done because the team needed a marquee name. Led by Williams, the Saints won all of three games in '99. After the season owner Tom Benson fired Dido and his staff and hired low-key Seahawks executive Randy Mueller. Preferring substance over name value, Mueller rebuilt the Saints' roster with a slew of talented but less recognizable players. New Orleans won the NFC West in 2000 and then won the first playoff game in team history.
Last week, just 14 months after winning the NFL Executive of the Year award, and five months after New Orleans completed a 7-9 season, Mueller was fired by Benson. The mercurial owner, best known for his wacky sideline dances after Saints victories, said Mueller was not communicating with him well and said he wanted a "different management style." However, Mueller says that Benson's lawyers had recently told him the owner wanted to discuss a contract extension. So why was Mueller suddenly cut loose? The going rate for general managers meant that Mueller was in line for at least a $1 million a year raise from his $650,000 salary, and with season-ticket sales down significantly from last year, booting Mueller made sense—at least to Benson. On Monday the Saints' owner named his salary cap manager, Mickey Loomis, as the team's new general manager. Loomis, a career business-side administrator with little background in personnel evaluation, will most likely rely heavily on advisers—including boss Benson—in making decisions.
What the perpetually impatient Benson is overlooking is that a good G.M. can be as much an MVP as a star player. Mueller was a shrewd evaluator of talent who in his short tenure traded a third-round pick for potential franchise quarterback Aaron Brooks, signed a virtually unknown linebacker (Charlie Clemons) who's become a pass-rushing force and nabbed Victor Riley, the best tackle on the free-agent market.
Benson, meanwhile, proved his football acumen last week when he said, "We're going to have a better organization now. Instead of one person making the decisions, we're going to have maybe 25 or 100 people help make those decisions." As New Orleans fans used to say during the team's dark days, God help the Saints.