Haslett won't return as Saints head coach

Updated: January 2, 2006, 8:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SAN ANTONIO -- The New Orleans Saints acknowledged the troubles Jim Haslett faced through the hurricane-disrupted 2005 season, and praised the coach for an admirable job under the circumstances.

After they fired him, that is.

Most wins in Saints history
Jim Mora 93
Jim Haslett 45*
Bum Phillips 27
*45-51 as Saints coach

General manager Mickey Loomis said Monday's firing of Haslett was about more than the 3-13 record the Saints endured after Hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans and forced the team to set up a temporary home in San Antonio.

"I think Jim performed really well under some adverse conditions, unprecedented conditions," Loomis said. "But unfortunately we haven't had the results the past five seasons that you come to expect in this league. It wasn't based just on this season."

Haslett was the 2000 NFL Coach of the Year in his first season after leading the Saints to the only playoff victory in team history. But he never made it back to the postseason, finishing 45-51 in six seasons for the second-most victories in team history behind Jim Mora's 93.

Haslett is expected to be a highly sought candidate in an exploding market. More respected leaguewide than within some quarters of his own organization, he likely will hear from multiple suitors as franchises begin the process of filling vacancies.

Haslett, 50, wasn't at Monday's news conference, but issued a statement through the team.

"There were some unexpected challenges, but in any case our record isn't good enough," he said.

Loomis said the team will pay the remaining year of Haslett's contract, worth $3.2 million. Haslett said earlier this month he wanted an extension to his contract, and Loomis said the team rejected his request.

"I knew what his desires were, but we didn't get to that point," Loomis said. "We talked about four or five different scenarios."

Loomis said he has some people in mind to be the next coach, but wouldn't mention candidates by name. Interviews could begin in the next few days, he said.

The next coach of the team must have NFL experience, said Loomis, who doesn't expect the uncertainty surrounding the franchise to make it more difficult to find a coach.

Although the Saints will return to their headquarters in suburban New Orleans later this month, it's unclear where they will play home games next season. Owner Tom Benson said the Superdome, heavily damaged by Katrina, will be ready for games in mid-September despite official projections for November.

"I don't think it will be difficult," Loomis said. "This is a good job. Obviously, we have some challenges in front of us, but frankly I wouldn't want a head coach who's not willing to face challenges."

New Orleans hasn't had a winning season since 2002, and this year was marred before it even began. Katrina hit New Orleans less than two weeks before the regular season, and the Saints ended up playing four home games in Baton Rouge, La., three in San Antonio and one "home" game against the New York Giants that irked the Saints players because it was played in New Jersey.

New Orleans opened the season with an emotional win at Carolina, but finished by losing 11 of 12, including Sunday's season-ending 27-13 defeat at Tampa Bay.

"For all of us, it was a time to follow a new direction, to bring closure to what was a disappointing year record-wise and move forward," Haslett said in the statement.

The turmoil surrounding the Saints slowly took its toll on them. Their practice site changed frequently because of previously scheduled events in the Alamodome, and their locker room was part of a high school baseball complex. Players voiced their frustrations, and receiver Joe Horn was a frequent critic of the league.

Regardless of whether the circumstances contributed, the Saints finished tied with Green Bay as the worst team in the league in turnover margin. The Saints had 24 more turnovers than their opponents.

They also allowed seven returns for touchdowns on turnovers or blocked kicks without getting one of their own.

"It was tough under these conditions for Jim and the team to win games," Saints receiver Donte' Stallworth said. "But this business is about wins and losses."

Haslett broke in as an NFL coach working with linebackers with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1993 before his first stint with the Saints in 1995-96. He was the defensive coordinator his second year with the Saints and for three seasons with Pittsburgh from 1997-99.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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