He was a fine player in the NFL from 1979-87 with Buffalo and the New York Jets.
His NFL coaching career began as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders in 1994 and he joined the staff of Jim Mora with the New Orleans Saints in 1995 as linebackers coach. Jim Haslett became Mora’s defensive coordinator in 1996.
That was not the best timing.
Mora quit in the middle of the 1996 season.
Haslett would depart at the end of the season to become defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Upon the dismissal of Mike Ditka and Bill Kuharich with the Saints, Tom Benson hired Randy Mueller as his new general manager.
Mueller, in turn, hired Haslett to return to New Orleans, this time as head coach, on Feb. 3, 2000.
Both hires were very fine hires.
The Saints, who went 3-13 in 1999, made good personnel decisions and improved the 2000 roster substantially.
Joe Horn, Norman Hand, Jeff Blake and Aaron Brooks were among the additions made. In the draft, New Orleans did not get much help, landing a good defensive end in Darren Howard in the second round, fullback Terrelle Smith in the fourth round and long snapper Kevin Houser in the seventh round.
Virtually no one could have envisioned the team going from 3-13 to 10-6 and a division championship, which is exactly what happened.
New Orleans opened at home and lost 14-10 to Detroit and the Saints limped out to a 1-3 record.
Then, the magic kicked in.
The Saints won six straight games to get to 7-3.
Then, New Orleans lost at home 31-22 to Oakland and lost Blake to a broken foot. He was done for the year and suddenly, a promising season looked to be in dire straits.
The reserve quarterback brought in from Green Bay paid huge dividends.
The Saints won three of their final five games and won the NFC West Division.
The prize was a home playoff game against the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, who had just beaten New Orleans 26-21 in the final week of the regular season.
The rematch was epic.
Without the services of Ricky Williams and with a far less than 100 percent Horn, Brooks played brilliantly in the playoff game, completing 16-of-29 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. He rushed 10 times for 26 yards. Willie Jackson had six catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns in a monster performance.
The Saints built a 31-7 lead in the fourth quarter but The Greatest Show on Turf then awakened, scoring 21 unanswered points to trail by just a field goal and the Rams forced a punt by Toby Gowin.
Then, fate intervened as future Saint Az Zahir Hakim dropped the punt and a relative unknown named Brian Milne recovered for the Saints to seal the first-ever playoff victory in franchise history.
Williams rushed for 1,000 yards, Horn caught 94 passes for 1,340 yards and eight touchdowns, Jerry Fontenot was good at center the tackle tandem of Willie Roaf and Kyle Turley was superb. Howard had a terrific rookie season with 11 sacks, Hand stuffed the run, La’Roi Glover was tremendous with 17 sacks, Joe Johnson had 12 sacks, Sammy Knight had five interceptions and Keith Mitchell and Mark Fields were good at linebacker.
Mueller was named NFL Executive of the Year while Haslett was named NFL Coach of the Year.
Then came 2001.
Deuce McAllister was a surprise first round pick, given the presence of Williams. It turned out to be a smart pick as McAllister would go on to star for the franchise while Williams would be traded away. Linebacker Sedrick Hodge was decent in the second round but that was all the help New Orleans would get.
The team made a bad investment in a bad character wideout in Albert Connell.
The momentum of the 2000 season continued with a 24-6 win at Buffalo to open the season. Things looked good when Brooks led the Saints to a thrilling 34-31 win at St. Louis over the Rams to get to 4-2. Things were still looking good when the Saints won 28-10 at Atlanta on Dec. 9 to get to 7-5.
Everything fall apart the rest of the way.
The Saints inexplicably lost their last four games by a total of 108 points, an average of 27 points per defeat.
In a 38-0 loss to the 49ers on the final playing date, Brooks was picked off four times and was sacked three times. New Orleans committed six turnovers and gained all of 152 total yards.
It was terrible ending to what was a promising season.
Prior to the 2002 season, Mueller was let go by Tom Benson after the two had a falling out. Mickey Loomis moved up to the general manager spot. Roaf, a future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, along with being a Saints Hall of Fame inductee and Ring of Honor recipient, left via trade for Kansas City. Glover left, another huge mistake in personnel, for Dallas.
Jerome Pathon arrived and was a solid second receiver behind Horn. With Williams gone, McAllister had a breakout season with 1,388 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns and Deuce had 47 catches for 352 yards and three scores.
The 2002 draft was the best of the Haslett years, producing wide receiver Donte Stallworth in and an outstanding defensive end Charles Grant in the first round, a really good offensive lineman in LeCharles Bentley in the second round, along with serviceable players in James Allen and Mel Mitchell.
Things looked good early as the Saints opened 3-0, got to 6-1 and were 7-2 after a 34-24 win at Carolina.
New Orleans was 9-4 after a 37-25 win at Baltimore on Dec. 18 and poised to make the playoffs after clinching a winning season.
It was not to be.
With Brooks, who had played extremely well, banged up, Haslett elected to stick with his quarterback, rather than go with reserve Jake Delhomme. The move failed.
The Saints lost their last three games, scoring a total of 19 points in the final two losses and missed the playoffs.
In the first loss, Brooks played quite well in a 32-31 loss to the Vikings as Minnesota won it on a touchdown pass with just five seconds remaining.
In the final two games, Brooks completed just 28 of 69 passes (40%) for 348 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
New Orleans would never come close to the playoffs again under Haslett.
In 2003, the Saints pretty much alternated wins and losses.
They started 1-4 and could never dig out, despite rallying to get to finish 8-8. New Orleans never got above .500 on the season.
Brooks had his best season, completing 59 percent of his passes and throwing 24 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. McAllister was brilliant with 1,641 yards rushing and eight touchdowns and 69 catches for 516 yards. Horn had 78 catches for 973 yards and 10 scores.
The 2003 draft was, in a word, failure.
Jonathan Sullivan was a first round bust. Only tackle Jon Stinchcomb, a second round choice, would be a good player. The team let Sammy Knight go and brought in Tebucky Jones at safety and that was a huge mistake.
In 2004, the Saints again started slowly and faded badly to 4-8, out of the playoff race. They did rally to win their final four games to finish 8-8 but the franchise was clearly mired in mediocrity, posting a 24-24 record over its last three seasons.
McAllister and Horn again starred on offense, Stallworth was solid and Michael Lewis was an excellent return man. Mike McKenzie had five interceptions while Darren Howard, Charles Grant and Will Smith were good up front.
The draft produced three solid players, including Smith in the first round, LSU’s Devery Henderson in the second round and fullback Mike Karney in round five.
Then came the disaster that was 2005.
After the Saints played Baltimore in their third preseason game on Aug. 26, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29 and ravaged the city as levees failed and the city went underwater.
The Superdome was damaged severely as well.
No one should hold Haslett responsible for what happened in 2005. The Saints were forced to play every game away from the city and the team was displaced and forced to work in dramatically subpar facilities.
The Saints crashed and burned at 3-13 and the Haslett regime was over.
Haslett finished 45-51 in his six seasons with New Orleans.
Like Tom Fears, Hank Stram and Dick Nolan before him, Haslett deserved a better fate.
He had posted a winning record prior to 2005.
Haslett would go on with his coaching career as an assistant and, at one point, as the Interim head coach of the St. Louis Rams.
Most recently, he was hired to return to the NFL after being out for a year as inside linebackers coach of the Tennessee Titans.
With the Haslett regime done, Loomis and Tom Benson had to make another key hire. Who would come to New Orleans after a terrible disaster to a city on its knees and for a football team coming off of a 3-13 season?
Before we get to the present, tomorrow, we will take a look at another Saints Interim head coach in Aaron Kromer.