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STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE: Saints Defensive Backs Coach Aaron Glenn Destined For NFL Head Coaching Future

One of the more worst-kept secrets in the sport of Pro Football currently is that the New Orleans Saints and specifically head coach Sean Payton, have what’s considered by many observers and analysts to be one of the very best coaching staffs in the entire NFL.

It’s one of the main reasons why other teams across the League have tried in recent months to hire or lure away several prominent up-and-coming assistants on the Black and Gold’s staff, most notably back in mid-February when the Cincinnati Bengals were eyeing Saints secondary / defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn to fill their defensive coordinator vacancy.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

And although the team reportedly isn’t worried about losing any of its assistants should they be given an opportunity to better their personal situations by accepting a promotion to a higher coaching position with another NFL franchise, they seemingly waited all of just a few seconds to render a decision on allowing the Bengals to make an official offer to Glenn, and pointedly told Cincinnati that they could not do so.

The decision obviously reinforced what most keen observers already knew, which is that New Orleans thinks very highly of Glenn, and to a man, every single one of his players often talk in complimentary and glowing terms, about just how much impact that Glenn has had on developing them and their respective NFL careers.

Bottom line: it’s simply just a matter of time before the former player, college All-American, and NFL All-Pro CB gets an opportunity to move up in the coaching ranks, and someday even become a head coach himself. 

Glenn — who has been on the Saints coaching staff since the 2016 season — is considered one of the very best League-wide at what he does; which isn’t all that much of a surprise given the fact that the 46-year old (he turns 47 next month) obviously knows a little something about the general technique. mind-set, and the standard of excellence that he set for his own self as a former elite-caliber player at that position, that’s necessary for someone to play at the NFL level.

Photo courtesy of Scott Threlkeld, New Orleans Advocate

For those younger Saints fans / Who Dats that aren’t aware: Glenn was a former All-Pro cornerback during most of the 1990’s with the New York Jets and their head coach at that time, the legendary former NFL head coach Bill Parcells.

Prior to playing for Parcells with the Jets, Glenn was a 1993 1st team consensus All-American at CB for Texas A&M University.

Glenn also played for the Houston Texans, the Dallas Cowboys, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and of course the Saints — where he played his final NFL season in 2008 under Saints head coach Sean Payton, who obviously was well aware of Glenn’s accomplishments with Payton’s mentor Bill Parcells. 

Payton was actually a part of Parcells’ Cowboys staff when they signed Glenn prior to the 2005 season, where Glenn played during Payton’s final year as Cowboys offensive coordinator before he was hired by the Saints.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Unfortunately, Glenn’s 15-year NFL playing career didn’t quite end on a high note, after he injured his ankle during the 2nd game of that 2008 season; which limited his playing time until he was eventually placed on the Saints injured reserve list on November 27th of that year, which would be the final transaction of his time spent as a player in the NFL.

But Payton obviously never forgot about his experiences with Glenn; which is exactly why Payton practically jumped all over the opportunity to bring Glenn to New Orleans when Glenn left the Cleveland Browns coaching staff at the end of the 2015 season.

“One of his great strengths was his film study, his intelligence,” Payton told former New Orleans Advocate writer Nick Underhill (who now covers the New England Patriots for The Athletic Boston) in an interview in late 2017. “

He’s always been one of those guys, even as a player, that the rest of the secondary gravitated to for information.”

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, New Orleans Advocate

“Part of playing that position is learning splits, learning route combinations and not defending every pattern on every play based on what you’re seeing. Aaron’s one of those guys that did that as a player, and I think that’s a strength of his as a coach now.”

Part of that strength was what led to the very notable development in Glenn’s first season with the team back in 2016, of UDFA cornerbacks Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris, both of who, made the Saints final roster that year as rookies.

Both players eventually saw significant playing time due to the two season-ending injuries suffered by-then starting Saints CB’s Delvin Breaux (who since that time has returned to play in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats), and P.J. Williams; who remains with the team currently as one of its back-ups in the secondary.

Glenn got much of the credit for Crawley and Harris’ development that year, and it’s the reason why both young men are still playing in the NFL three years later. Crawley is also currently still a back-up for New Orleans; while Harris has since moved on to a back-up position role with the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With Crawley specifically, Underhill noted that Glenn was able to recognize early on that Crawley would focus on the wrong things at times; such as locking in on the quarterback during man coverage, or watching the receiver when playing zone.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Underhill observed at the time that you might get away with some of that stuff at the collegiate level, but those issues would have made Crawley an easy mark against NFL quarterbacks had they not be fixed.

But that’s exactly the type of thing that Payton was hoping that Glenn could teach and convey in an easy-to-understand manner, given his time spent in the League as a former player himself for 15 seasons.

“The thing is, especially when you’re playing man-to-man, the quarterbacks can fool you so much to where if you’re not locked in on your man, you’re looking at the quarterback, your man can slip by you on double moves,” Glenn told Underhill.

“I think that’s one thing when quarterbacks and offensive coordinators see guys on tape and see you have bad eyes, you can be sure they’re going to come after you with double moves.”

Additionally, Underhill also noted that beginning the following season in 2017 after the team had drafted current starting #1 CB Marshon Lattimore, how Glenn implemented the change in the actual way in which the Saints secondary began preparing for games.

Prior to Glenn’s arrival, the secondary under Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen had always studied the tendencies of other teams and got a feel for how offenses wanted to attack them. But Glenn decided to take things to a completely different level (and a much higher standard of preparation).

Adding players like Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams helped originally, but Glenn’s growth as a coach and teacher in the past year and a half has helped turn preparation into better and much more tangible results; particularly after the team traded for former New York Giants former #1 draft pick (and Lattimore’s former Ohio State University teammate) Eli Apple last October.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

As most Saints fans likely recall: the Saints secondary got off to an underwhelming start at the beginning of last season; when the secondary got torched in the 2018 Season-opening loss at the Superdome against the Buccaneers and their back-up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick; who carved up the Saints secondary to the tune of a whopping 529 yards and six plays of 30 or more yards in what can only be described as an embarrassing performance.

In that very same contest, Fitzpatrick joined former 1990’s Washington Redskins QB Mark Rypien (11-10-91 vs. ATL) as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards, 4 TD’s and zero interceptions while also rushing for a touchdown in a single game.

But to their credit, neither the Saints franchise nor Glenn showed any panic, and although the trade for Apple — who had struggled mightily during his time in New York — was widely criticized by many so-called NFL “experts”, not everyone was convinced that the former All-American would be able to get his then-struggling young NFL career back on track.

The Black and Gold gave up a 4th Round draft pick to acquire the 23-year old Apple to replace Crawley as the other outside boundary CB opposite of Lattimore; and as the weeks went by, it became evident that being reunited with several of his former college teammates from Ohio State served as the primary inspiration for Apple to regain the form that made him one of the nation’s premier “shut down” CB’s.

That and of course: the steady guidance and influence of one Aaron Glenn.

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch, Jr.

As noted previously by Underhill. Glenn’s players noticed that he started paring down his presentations for that particular week’s scheduled opponent; and Instead of throwing a ton of information at them, showed each one of them individually the techniques needed to be successful; especially after Glenn realized some players learn at a different pace and speed — and tailored his entire approach to ensure all the information was received and processed.

“He just came in and laid it all out, nothing hard,” Crawley said to Underhill “Gives you straight up what the teams do, and I think it’s very effective.”

Early on during each week of an upcoming game, Glenn gives his players instructions on the things they need to study in order to win that week’s contest; and then asks each one of them to come back with what they noticed. Glenn then further simplifies what they’re seeing, with the main / primary goal of recognizing (and then identifying) an opponent’s “staple plays.”

When another team’s offense likes to run certain plays that often end up being successful, Glenn wants to be sure his players are identifying them quickly and making plays. But Glenn knows from his very own previous NFL experience that the Saints secondary has to have a grasp on all other tendencies that include formations, down and distance, plays within the red zone and when the opponent’s offense likes to attempt high-risk, high-reward plays.

The reason why Glenn chooses to do that is because more often times than not, something happens to blow up the original defensive game plan, and offenses are forced to improvise or “go off script”. Normally, that’s when the opponent will ultimately go back to their regular offense and their “staple plays”; thus allowing the Saints secondary to sit back and wait for the opponent to fall back on its tendencies.

What’s become evident as Glenn prepares to coach the Saints secondary for what will be his 4th year as the Saints Secondary / Defensive Backs coach; is how he has so masterfully managed to fix and improve a New Orleans secondary that has undergone a ton of scrutiny in the past several seasons. Prior to his arrival in 2016, the Saints defense had finished ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL, for 3 out of the previous 4 years.

Photo courtesy of Layne C. Murdoch, Jr.

Now just 3 years later, the Saints defense thanks to the notable improvement of the secondary under Glenn. has a legitimate chance to finish ranked within the Top 10 defenses League-wide. And with players such as Lattimore, Apple, Marcus Williams. P.J. Williiams. Patrick Robinson, Vonn Bell, and brand new rookie sensation Chauncey Gardner-Johnson now added to the mix; it could be a ranking that will remain steady throughout the length of Glenn’s tenure.

That of course speaks directly to the “standard of excellence” that Glenn has instilled and established for the Saints defensive backfield — and the very same standard of excellence that ultimately will see Aaron Glenn much like his coaching mentors Bill Parcells and Sean Payton — become the next great NFL head coach one day in the not-too-distant future…. 


Saints News Network featured columnist and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer Barry Hirstius is a 52-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 45 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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