By Chris Burke
March 21, 2012

Pete Carmichael already has experience as the Saints' play-caller on offense. (Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE)

Sean Payton's suspension for the entire 2012 season leaves the Saints in need of a head coach for the foreseeable future. Who might they turn to? Here's a look at the available in-house options:

• Pete Carmichael: Maybe the leader in the clubhouse, Carmichael coached the Saints' QBs from 2006-08, then took over as the offensive coordinator in 2009. He stepped in for Sean Payton this past season after Payton broke his leg and was relegated to the press box. All the Saints did with Carmichael calling the shots on the sideline was hang 62 points on the Colts in a 55-point win.

Carmichael's name was bandied about this offseason by teams with head-coaching vacancies, and he was reportedly in the mix for both the Indianapolis and Oakland jobs.

He's intricately familiar with Payton's offensive system, as his six years as a coach on that side of the ball for New Orleans would indicate. Carmichael has also been with the Saints as long as any of their other prominent assistants, which could give him an edge over, say ...

• Steve Spagnuolo: The obvious knock against Spagnuolo is that he wouldn't even be on the Saints' coaching staff if he had not been fired as head coach of the Rams. Spagnuolo was let go in January after St. Louis completed a miserable 2-14 season, dropping Spagnuolo's overall record in three years on the job to 10-38. Not all of that was his fault -- the Rams were badly banged-up this past season -- but it's also not a confidence-inspiring run.

Working in Spagnuolo's favor is that he does have that head coaching experience, however unsuccessful, and he has been a coach at the NFL level since 1998.

On the other hand, whereas Carmichael knows the Saints' system and has shown himself to be a promising offensive mind, Spagnuolo preaches defense first. That might not be a bad thing for a New Orleans team that has struggled in that area in recent seasons, but it would represent a drastic shift from Payton's way of thinking.

• Aaron Kromer: Another up-and-comer in the coaching ranks, Kromer was actually a candidate to replace Spagnuolo in St. Louis and drew an endorsement from Payton for that gig:

"He’s been a huge asset to us ... He’s a big reason for our success offensively," Payton said in January.

Would he feel as comfortable with Kromer taking over his job for a year? Kromer was the Saints' running backs coach in 2008, then moved up to take over the offensive line in 2009. He had stints with the Raiders and Bucs prior to that, plus stops at Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern.

• Joe Vitt: Going down this road would force the Saints to pick two different head coaches in Payton's absence, since Vitt also drew a suspension -- he'll miss the first six regular season games of the 2012 season.

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