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Saints Finally Get a Coach: Rick Venturi

October 23, 1996

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ His record isn’t impressive, nor is the team he’ll coach the next eight games. Rick Venturi’s goal, however, is rather grand. He wants the New Orleans Saints to go 8-0 and make the playoffs.

Venturi, until now the linebackers coach for the Saints, is now the head coach. He got his battlefield promotion Wednesday, two days after Jim Mora suddenly resigned, shocking players and coaches.

The hiring came one day after the general manager’s first choice as a replacement, pro personnel director Chet Franklin, decided not to take the job, having detected displeasure with the choice among the assistant coaches.

The Saints then turned to Venturi, who says the team is up to the challenge. This despite:

_the worst rushing defense in the league.

_an offense that’s only three spots from the bottom.

_a 2-6 record.

_a Sunday afternoon loss to the Carolina Panthers that was so embarrassing it provoked an expletive-filled tirade from Mora on Sunday and his resignation on Monday.

It all made for a confusing, tumultuous two days.

``This program is absolutely not in disarray, regardless of the perception,″ Venturi said Wednesday. ``This team has won the last two out of three football games. It approaches the last eight weeks with optimism and commitment. We want to make this last eight weeks the best weeks of our lives.″

It’s the second time Venturi has become an interim head coach in the NFL. In 1991, he took over the Indianapolis Colts after the firing of Ron Meyer. The Colts went 1-10 under Venturi, finishing the season 1-15.

The Saints are a better team than the Colts team he inherited, Venturi said.

``I feel like this football team can be successful,″ Venturi said. ``I think we have to manage it into success. It isn’t going to just happen, there are some things we have to do to get better. But we can do them.″

Before joining the Saints as the linebacker coach this season, Venturi was secondary coach, then defensive coordinator during two years with the Cleveland Browns. He was part of the staff that was fired when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens.

Jim Haslett, who also had been considered a candidate to succeed Mora, will remain defensive coordinator.

Carl Smith, the offensive coordinator since 1986 who was fired Tuesday, will not be replaced, Venturi said. The entire offensive staff will have a hand in drawing up the plays, but tight ends coach Bruce Arians will be quarterbacks coach and will call offensive plays on game day.

``I think the offense will change dramatically,″ quarterback Jim Everett said after practice Wednesday. ``There will be a dedication to running the ball, no doubt about it. That’s already been expressed.″

The Saints’ offense ranks 27th overall in the NFL, 28th in rushing and 21st in passing. Their 174 yards in a 19-7 loss to Carolina on Sunday was their lowest total of the season. Afterward, Mora lashed out at his team and for the first time criticized Smith, especially his decision to abandon the running game in the second half.

The Saints’ assistant coaches, who had reacted coolly to the choice of Franklin, general manager Bill Kuharich’s first choice to replace Mora, were pleased with Venturi’s selection.

``He’s going to do a great job,″ said Haslett, who said he had not been interested in moving up to head coach.

``I’ll have a chance to be head coach,″ Haslett said. ``This isn’t the best time or place for me to do it. My best interest is in coaching the defense. We don’t need the distraction of me moving. We’re finally starting to play well on defense. We’ve only given up an average of 18 points in the last four games. That’s playoff caliber defense.″

After a day of indecision while Franklin pondered taking the interim position, Kuharich offered the job to Venturi on Wednesday morning. The deal was so hasty there was no discussion of a salary increase, Venturi said.

Venturi oversaw his first practice as head coach minutes after the announcement.

``With this team right now, the best thing is to work on fundamentals,″ Venturi said. ``We’ll do that, take a few days off to get away from everything, and start working on San Francisco in earnest next week.″

The Saints, who have a bye this weekend, will take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. Their next opponent is the 49ers on Nov. 3.

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