As reported by ESPN, the New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton has decided to walk away from his tenure after 15 seasons with the team. This saw the summation of, according to Pro Football Reference: 241 games coached, 152 of them wins for a 63.1% total win rate, the best in franchise history; nine winning seasons; nine trips to the playoffs; nine total playoff wins; and the 2009-2010 Super Bowl Championship.
Hidden in between all these wins and losses was the full package of a coach. He was all at once one of the best game planners, game managers, motivators and player developers of his era. He no doubt contributed to the growth of 27-year-old ‘undersized’ quarterback Drew Brees into the soon-to-be Hall of Famer he is today. He oversaw moments and made decisions that became iconic in modern football, like the Steve Gleason punt block and the Super Bowl onside kick out of halftime.
His 2006 Coach of the Year season sums up his legacy well; great drafts, a league-leading passing attack, and defensive and special teams units that could put points on the board. This trend continued his entire career; as other coaches who entered the league around him got schematically ‘exposed’ or ‘passed by’ in the modern game, Payton innovated and developed alongside his players and staff.
Early in his retirement press conference that was held on Tuesday, Payton dropped a gem quote that reveals his profound understanding of how building ‘culture’ in professional football works. “If I was writing a book I’d say it’s also very simple, the alignment of ownership, your club president, your general manager, your head coach right through your roster. That sounds easy, but like any relationship, they require work, it requires time and energy, it requires a similar goal. It requires us all to kind of, like, lay down our arms and our egos for the best of the team, and if we ask that of our players then certainly we have to ask that of our organization.”
Phrases like “I don’t know what’s next,” “I don’t like the word retirement” and “I still have a vision for doing things in football” lit the fuse for an explosion of rumors around what his next job would be. Many pundits point to his former relationship with the Dallas Cowboys as an assistant head coach in 2005, with NFL reporter Kimberly Martin stating on ESPN that “league people believe he will definitely end up in Dallas. It’s a matter of when, not if.” Meanwhile, Dan Graziano mentions, “there’s been a lot of talk lately about TV networks pursuing Sean Payton for a role, that could be it,” but for a head coach position, he reckons “he’d be in high demand.” These avenues, of course, would require an early termination of Payton’s contract with the Saints, or a trade to another team for players or draft compensation.