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Saints HC Dennis Allen expects to return for 2024 season, says no 'fracture' in locker room

After a trying season that ended with a strong finish, Dennis Allen's job as head coach of the New Orleans Saints appears to be safe.

Allen told reporters on Monday he expects to return as Saints coach in 2024.

That is my expectation, yes," Allen said.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported later Monday that Allen will be retained as HC.

Allen looks to have avoided termination perhaps because his Saints team finally neared their potential down the stretch of the 2023 regular season. After months of uneven, inconsistent performances, New Orleans won four of its final five games, with the Saints' only loss coming in a Thursday night road game against the playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams in Week 16.

Allen's future certainly wasn't guaranteed entering Sunday, though. As his Saints were finishing off their best game of the season, a 48-17 drubbing of the division-rival Atlanta Falcons, Allen directed his offense to take a knee one yard from Falcons' goal line. New Orleans' offense ignored his directions, as backup quarterback Jameis Winston handed off to running back Jamaal Williams in order to help him score his first touchdown of the 2023 campaign.

The decision enraged since-fired Falcons head coach Arthur Smith, and forced Allen to apologize for his players' actions afterward. Perhaps most damning was the fact his players rebuffed his instructions, pointing toward possible internal division.

Allen pushed back against this sentiment on Monday.

"Those players went out and played their tail off the last five games of the season, and I've been on teams where that doesn't happen," Allen told reporters, per The Times-Picayune. "No, I don't believe there was a fracture (between players and coaches)."

Allen owns a 16-18 record in two seasons as the head coach of the Saints, a position he ascended to after coach Sean Payton abruptly stepped away from the team following the 2021 season. With continuity in mind amid a turbulent time, New Orleans promoted Payton's defensive coordinator, Allen, after Allen had spent nearly seven years in the role, which he'd gained following Rob Ryan's firing late in the 2015 season.

The Saints' plan was simple: retain their defensive-minded coach with the hopes that side of the ball could keep them competitive while they searched for a permanent replacement for the retired Drew Brees.

Such a plan worked for about a year. New Orleans' defense finished fifth in yards allowed per game in 2022, carried largely by a pass defense that ranked second in the NFL.

The lack of a quality starting quarterback and healthy weapons dragged the Saints down in that season, though, leading to low-scoring games and a bottom-third finish in points per game. 

The Saints scratched and clawed their way to seven wins in this environment and set a clear priority for the 2023 offseason: Find a quarterback. Allen turned to a familiar face in Derek Carr -- who played four games for Allen as a rookie in Oakland in 2014 before Allen was fired -- with the hopes he'd be the answer they so desperately needed under center.

The results never quite panned out that way -- at least, not until the final five weeks of the season. Carr and the Saints struggled to get on the same page for much of 2023, and their late-season surge might have been the only thing that saved Allen's job, with Sunday's blowout win serving as a strong argument against firing the coach.

So far, that argument is winning the debate. Final records of 7-10 and 9-8 aren't good enough to guarantee long-term security, but a two-win jump is an improvement worthy of praise.

Just don't lay it on too thick. After years of consistent success with Payton and Brees, complacency could have set in too deeply in New Orleans, according to Allen, who said Monday it is time for the Saints to challenge themselves to be better in 2024 and beyond.

"Our mindset needs to be different," Allen said on Monday, per WWL-AM. "I've been here for a lot of it and we've had a lot of success around here, and I think sometimes you can get a little comfortable with that."

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