Haslett Has Saints Moving Forward

THIBODAUX, La. (AP) _ Last year Jim Haslett was a rookie coach taking over one of the worst teams in the NFL. After turning the New Orleans Saints around and earning Coach of the Year, Haslett heads into his second season with more confidence, experience and a team that's expected to win. Unchanged is the humility with which he approaches the job. ``You can always learn and always grow. That's the nice thing about this business _ there's something you can always do to make yourself better.'' Haslett amazed observers from the beginning last year. He took over a 3-13 team that had not had a winning season since 1992. Good players like offensive tackle William Roaf were in the minority on the team and were discouraged by the years of futility. Former coach Mike Ditka had stripped the Saints of draft picks in the Ricky Williams deal, not only trading away the 1999 picks, but two of the 2000 picks, including the first round choice. Haslett cleaned house, replacing 30 players by the time the Saints took the field for the first game of the season. What was supposed to be the first year of an extended rebuilding period turned into a 10-6 season with the Saints winning the NFC West and the first playoff game in the history of the franchise.

``He did a great job last year of instilling confidence into a team that didn't have any,'' said assistant coach Rick Venturi, a holdover from both the Jim Mora and Ditka eras. ``And as he talked to the team last night he made them aware of how tough this year will be.'' Faced with the challenge last year of convincing a team put together from castoffs from other teams, low-round draft picks and free agents that they could be successful, this year Haslett has to convince them that they can be even more successful. He addressed that in the first team meeting of training camp. ``What I said was that it's not going to be easy to accomplish what you want to accomplish,'' Haslett said. ``Because everybody in the world is looking at you, everybody is going to be shooting at you, it's a harder schedule, there are higher expectations. But that's the way this business is. And I said that it can be done. We can get to where we want to be if we stick together as a family.'' Haslett, a compulsive detail man who doesn't seem to be kidding when he says he checks everything including how the toilet paper is coming off the rolls, is just as organized with the same ability to oversee everything from practice and meetings to travel plans and free agent workouts. ``He was so ready a year ago that nothing much has changed,'' Venturi said. ``I think there's an ease of movement this year because everybody's been in the system a year.'' Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy agreed that camp is being run on the same tight schedule with the same demands and stringent rules. The practices are brisk, but with regular opportunities to teach and review. If anything, the attitude is more businesslike. ``Last year was like Christmas and we were all a little bit wide-eyed,'' McCarthy said. ``This year we're more down to business and feel like we have something to prove. Plus we're all more relaxed. Instead of everything being new, we now know it and are just trying to get better at it.'' General manager Randy Mueller, who hired Haslett because he wanted a coach that could endure what everyone believed would be a long grind to revamp the Saints, said players, coaches and the front office are more grounded in reality this year, and also more confident. ``I sensed a little more businesslike approach,'' Mueller said. ``He's a little more confident. I think he realizes that he has a long way to go, but that he has a good chance to get there.''