Senior NFL Columnist

Modest Kromer could ride role as Saints' fill-in to head-coaching job

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Aaron Kromer could be an NFL head coach somewhere by 2013. (US Presswire)  
Aaron Kromer could be an NFL head coach somewhere by 2013. (US Presswire)  

METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton, the regular coach of the New Orleans Saints, has an edge about him that helps make him one of the game's best. Joe Vitt, the team's interim coach, is a Payton soldier who plays the tough-guy role to the max and oozes Payton loyalty.

So who is Aaron Kromer?

He's the interim-interim coach of the Saints, if you really want to get technical. With Payton suspended for the year for his role in Bountygate, and Vitt getting the first six games for his role in it, the Saints have turned to Kromer, the team's offensive line coach, to lead their team.

Strange thing is: He doesn't come across anything like the other two.

Where Payton will shoot daggers at a questioner and Vitt seems ready to square off at any moment, Kromer actually sounds and talks like a football coach from outside the Saints family.

Kromer talks in coach-speak, seemingly out of the mold of all those straight-laced graduates of Coach 101.

For some reason, he doesn't act or seem like ego is a big deal to him at all, which is weird for a coach in these parts.

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Maybe that's why his offensive linemen love him. That's why they think he will have a successful six-game stint leading the Saints, beginning Sunday against the Washington Redskins at the Superdome.

"He has head coach written all over him," Saints tackle Zach Strief said. "I'm surprised he hasn't already been scooped up. Unfortunately for us, we're going to start the season strong under his leadership and people are going to realize he's a leader. He'll be a head coach sooner rather than later."

No, Zach. He's a head coach this week. It's his team. If the Saints win, it goes next to his name in the record book. If they lose, it's the same thing.

This isn't Sean Payton's game. It isn't Joe Vitt's.

It's Aaron Kromer, head coach.

But if you think Kromer is fazed by it, think again. I asked him about the reality that these games count on his record and that they will never be erased.

"I am beyond that, to be honest, in my mind," he said. "What is important is that we show up, do our job, and as a collective group, do the best we can. I think that will be good enough. I am not sitting here worried about whether it is a win or a loss for me; it is a win or loss for our team. When we go back in the meeting room the next day, we all have to deal with the win or the loss. I am not worried about labeling one way or the other, I am worried about what is in the best interest of the team."

Does that sound like a man with an ego?

I asked around the league to get a gauge of Kromer and several personnel people spoke highly of him. But several coaches I talked with didn't know much about him, or didn't know him at all.

"I know he's done a good job with the line there," one coach said "But that's it. I really don't know him."

The 45-year-old Kromer, a former college offensive lineman, has been a coach for 22 seasons, 11 in the college ranks and 11 in the NFL. He came to the Saints after stints working for Jon Gruden in Oakland and in Tampa Bay.

His first job with the Saints in 2008 was as running backs coach, but in 2009 he became the line coach and helped develop Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans.

Along the way, he earned a lot of praise from his players.

"The great thing about Aaron is that he respects the players," Strief said. "A lot of coaches are grinders and they're in your ear constantly. Aaron trusts his players."

I could tell right away that Strief liked the guy. When I asked what Kromer was like, his reply was this: "He's a jerk."

He was kidding. But just saying it shows a comfort level.

Strief did say that the offensive linemen have been relentless in their teasing of Kromer about his ascension to the top spot -- even if it is only temporary.

"I make as many comments as I can in a day about him being the head coach," Strief said. "He handles it well."

The theme for this Saints team is one of Payton's favorite terms, and it is part of a huge picture of Payton that hovers over the inside field at the team's practice facility.

Do Your Job.

Kromer is taking that approach. He is doing what he's told to do, all the while downplaying whether this is an audition of sorts.

"We are going to work this as a group, and I happen to be sitting in this chair," he said. "I am going to do the best job I can to lead this, but we have great leaders. We have five great captains and a wonderful coaching staff. It is going to be a collective effort in this situation. I feel good about that. You can feel comfort when you have leaders and people around you like we have in this office."

Kromer interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts last year and was scheduled to meet with the Rams, but they hired Jeff Fisher before he could interview.

So he's on the doorstep. The next six games just might decide whether he goes through it.

"Next man up," Saints tackle Jermon Bushrod said. "We know what he can do. He's one of us. We're like a family. It's a tremendous opportunity for him. We're going to do our best to make sure it comes out OK."

My gut is that Kromer will be just fine. If he is, he'll be a head coach in 2013, a far different one than the one he works for in New Orleans.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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