NEW ORLEANS -- Donnie Henderson, the first coaching candidate brought in for formal interviews at the New Orleans Saints' headquarters, said Tuesday that he was impressed with the team's facilities and talent, as well as the "energy" he sensed in residents rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina.
"The facilities -- you can't beat this. This is second to none," said Henderson, currently the New York Jets' defensive coordinator, as he stood near the sidelines of the Saints' full-size indoor practice field in Metairie, La. "There's a lot of energy here right now and people see the economy coming back and that's good. If they're upbeat, you've got to believe it's a good thing."
If the Saints eventually make Henderson their top choice, he may have other options. Henderson will interview for the head coaching job with the Jets as well as with the St. Louis Rams, he said.
He expected to meet with Jets officials Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Although the Jets, hampered by key injuries to quarterback Chad Pennington and others, won only four games this season, the defensive unit ranked 12th out of 32 teams.
A year ago, when the Jets made the playoffs and nearly eliminated Pittsburgh, their defense ranked seventh.
The Saints have also scheduled interviews this week with Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon and Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Sean Payton. Carthon arrived Tuesday but the Saints had no immediate plans to make him available for interviews.
Henderson repeatedly referred to the Saints as an 8-8 team (their 2004 record), saying their 3-13 record in 2005 was not indicative of their ability. The Saints were displaced from New Orleans by Katrina for the entire regular season, setting up temporary headquarters in San Antonio. In addition to playing home games in three different locations and practicing in temporary facilities, they lost starting running back Deuce McAllister to injury in the fifth game of the season.
"Defensively, you've got a lot of great players. You have some great skill guys on offense," Henderson said. "Obviously, some areas you'd like to improve. Based on what I've seen on your tape, you're not far away. You've got as much talent as anybody else in the league, so you've got to feel good about that."
Henderson said he would preach discipline, hoping to reduce penalties and turnovers while improving the Saints' chances of finishing off drives deep into opponents' territory with touchdowns instead of field goals.
The Saints also have the second pick in the NFL draft, although Henderson declined to discuss which player he'd like to see taken if hired. He said he discussed such personnel matters with general manager Mickey Loomis, senior football administrator Russ Ball and director of player personnel Rick Mueller but did not want to talk about it publicly for now.
Henderson said he did not expect to have the ultimate say in personnel decisions but did not see a problem with that.
"Based on our discussions today, I would have a hands-on approach, but let's be honest -- [Loomis] is the GM, and you know who the boss is," Henderson said. "You have your input about who you'd like to have."
Part of Henderson's visit included dinner in the warehouse district at Tommy's, a restaurant specializing in Creole and Italian cuisine. He also took a tour of some of the nicer repopulated neighborhoods, as well as some of those areas devastated by flooding.
Henderson said he found parts of the metro area to be in fine shape and that he did not expect quality-of-life issues to affect either his or prospective free agents' decisions to join the Saints.
"From what I see, it's getting repaired. You've got a city that's energetic. Come on and be a part of it," he said.