Drew Brees sat down at the podium today and uttered a completely classic line. The Saints QB has a way of offering brilliant nonchalance, and this was another example. “The offseason went by fast,” Brees told reporters. “A lot of crazy stuff happened obviously, but here we are — first day of training camp.”
That’s one way to sum it up. Brees got a new contract, the Saints lost their coach and a bunch of other key parts to a bounty scandal, and that was only two of the crazy things that happened. The easy thing for the Saints would be to say that they are who they are and that the events haven’t changed them.
That’s kind of the feedback I got when the Saints had a fight in minicamp, even with the world watching and ready to pick them apart. But maybe things are coming around. To that end, I was intrigued by the comments made by interim coach Joe Vitt today.
No, not the ones where he said the search to replace him when he’s suspended is “in the infantile stages.” I’m talking about how he believes he was suspended for “the spoken word and not the clenched fist.” It seems Vitt — the loud, brash, charismatic, profane, hilarious, emotional, did I mention LOUD coach — is toning it down with a purpose.
“What I say and how I say it, I want to make a difference,” Vitt said today. “I’m taking responsibility for that and I’m going to get better at that. I’m making a conscious effort so far to get better at that. Now this is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Vitt gets it now. From these words, I take the fact that he understands perception is reality. No longer will his voice reflect the defense’s physical nature. Instead, the public will have to rely on simply what it sees on the field — which one hopes are clean and legal hits with no other purposes. TV closeups of him screaming his head off will lend itself to a bad image. That will only worsen the already difficult image the franchise has.
The most damaging thing in my view that happened to the Saints this offseason from a public relations standpoint was the release of the Gregg Williams audio. That put a voice on the brutality and allowed outsiders to eavesdrop on what the goals of the defense were. It was ugly.
That and the replays of those hits against the Vikings ensured the public had examples of what the NFL was describing as a bounty program. Words matter. Yes, the Saints had to move on and change perception. Williams, actually, was hired a few years back to change the culture. Um, he did. Vitt is an unlikely, but maybe effective option, to change it back.
“I think that we are not screaming as much, that is a conscious effort to do the right thing,” Vitt said. “I’ve said this before. I am on board with player safety. What comes out of my mouth and how I deliver things makes a difference and I think our entire coaching staff has made a conscious effort to make sure the right words come out of our mouth.”
A step in the right direction. First comes words. Then action.