Steve Sidwell, Saints defensive coordinator during 'Dome Patrol' era, dies at 78

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell, who coached the famed “Dome Patrol” linebacker group and help construct some of the top defenses in franchise history, has died at age 78.

“He was a tremendous defensive coach in our league — a ton of success,” Saints coach Dennis Allen, a defensive coach himself, said following practice on Thursday, shortly after the club confirmed Sidwell's passing.

“He led the ‘Dome Patrol’ defense, which is really the standard of defense for the New Orleans Saints; it's what we kind of aspire to be defensively," Allen added. "It's a sad day for our organization.”

Sidwell, who died Wednesday, coached with New Orleans under then-head coach Jim Mora from 1986 to 1994.

The Saints ran a 3-4 defense then, and the Dome Patrol consisted of the four starting linebackers in that formation: Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, Pat Swilling and Vaughn Johnson.

Two of those linebackers — Jackson and Mills — have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sidwell’s Saints defenses finished in the NFL’s top five in opponent net yards per game three times, led the league in opponent points per game twice (1991-92), run defense once (1989), opponent passing yards per game twice (1992-93) and sacks once (1992).

New Orleans defenders racked up 408 sacks during Sidwell's nine seasons, which ranked third in the NFL during that period.

The Saints' first four playoff appearances in franchise history (1987, 1990-92) also occurred during Sidwell’s stint in New Orleans.

“For nine years, Steve Sidwell played an integral role in the success of the New Orleans Saints and helped develop several of the franchise’s greatest defensive players," Saints owner Gayle Benson said. "The success of these teams and players continues to resonate with our organization and fan base to this day.

“My late husband, Tom, owned the team during Steve’s entire tenure and had a great affinity for him both as a coach and as a person,” Benson added. “Steve was also a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather.”

Sidwell played linebacker for Colorado and went on to coach for 35 years at the college and professional levels, including 21 years in the NFL.

He began his coaching career as Colorado linebackers coach in 1966, became a college coordinator at UNLV in 1974 and moved to SMU in 1976 before entering the NFL in 1982 as the New England Patriots' linebackers coach. He coached defensive line for the Baltimore Colts in 1985 before joining Mora's first staff in New Orleans the following season.

After leaving the Saints, Sidwell had several more stints as a defensive coordinator with the Houston Oilers (1995-96), Patriots (1997-99) and Seattle Seahawks (2000-2002).