Over the course of the past decade, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton has led the franchise to staggering heights, with 3 NFC South titles, 6 playoff victories, and a Super Bowl Championship. Sean Payton is inarguably the greatest head coach in Saints history, and it is difficult to argue that there is clearly a better coach currently in the league that would be better in the position than him. Despite all of this, faux scandals have also plagued the Saints in Payton's time in New Orleans.
Payton's success not only revived the Saints franchise from their lowest days, but also deflected intense negativity against embattled owner Tom Benson. Benson's flirtation with San Antonio in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina made him Public Enemy No. 1 in New Orleans. Payton delivered wins, a championship, and goodwill toward Benson, which seemed to facilitate Benson in turn giving Payton carte blanche within the Saints organization. Payton would ultimately become the NFL's highest paid head coach for his efforts.
There have been a number of names and transgressions to keep up with over the past decade with the team, though. There was Geoff Santini and the Vicodin caper. There were the multiple shady dealings of convicted felon Mike Ornstein. There was the too-stupid-to-ever-believe ESPN tale of Mickey Loomis' "wire tapping". Most famously, there was Gregg Williams' inconceivably buffoonish incentive based pay-for-performance system which gave us an asinine group of deviants to follow, like self-serving "filmmaker" Sean Pamphilon and pre-Galette disgruntled employee of the decade, Mike Cerullo. Now Junior Galette joins this rogues gallery of cartoonish super villains the Saints have had to contend with under Payton.
The Junior Galette saga is just the latest event to shine a light in the Saints' darkest corners. The last thing the franchise needed was another set of ridiculous allegations, no matter how unreliable the source was. It was great fun to read the inane Twitter ramblings of a bitter madman, or "madwoman", but it was also disturbing how some of it, no matter how preposterous, could be based in the slightest of truth.
That "Juicy Fruit eating prick", as the ramblings referred to him, claimed Payton showed up to team meetings drunk and is a pill abuser. This takes sour grapes or jilted lover syndrome to a whole new level, but honestly, it wouldn't be crazy to imagine Payton rolling into a meeting on Airline Drive with sunglasses on, a bottle of water in one hand, and a bottle of aspirin in the other, after a long night.
Honestly, that's the issue. We all can agree that Junior is going for the jugular by attacking Payton's celebrity lifestyle, but he does have a reputation for that offseason lifestyle, and that opens the door for attacks like that one and the claim of Payton moving training camp to West Virginia so he could be near his girlfriend. Doesn't that seem like a lot of trouble to go through to see your girlfriend? How about a charter jet? I'm sure the Benson trust would pay for it if he didn't want to. Again, nonsense, but this just isn't a good look for the Saints.
The Saints have had to repair perception issues since the "bounty" debacle, and the continuous slings and arrows, despite the sanity of the sources, are not helping matters. What is slightly disconcerting is not how outside fanbases or national media views the Saints, but how we have unwittingly begun to perceive the team ourselves.
As Saints fans, we often remark about assistant head coach Joe Vitt's invulnerability from being fired, despite the lack of linebacker development during his time in New Orleans. We all joke that he'll never be fired because "he knows where the bodies are buried". This example really shows how we've all become quite accustomed to the way things operate behind the scenes under Payton. Under no circumstances will he ever part with his self-described consigliere. Vitt has been loyal to Payton, in theory, he's a "made man".
Through his actions, Sean Payton has shown that he honors loyalty above all attributes to those around him. Former defensive stars under Payton had shown loyalty to him during the NFL head trauma witch-hunt of 2012, and in turn, he displayed his loyalty to them. Will Smith, Scott Shanle, Scott Fujita, and especially, Jonathan Vilma exemplified that loyalty during the lowest point of Payton's career, and they continue to support him today. While it may have been his cavalcade of atrocities that truly sealed Galette's fate in New Orleans, it was more than likely that Galette's verbal "hit" on Payton's "made men" last season that was the kiss of death for Junior. He tore down men that were champions under Payton, loyal men, all in the name of self-preservation.
To take the faux mafioso analogy further, in many ways, Junior Galette is reminiscent of Tommy DeVito, Joe Pesci's character in GoodFellas. While he was a key player in the organization's success, his paranoia and violent nature became far too problematic for those around him. Galette's release shadowed Tommy's "getting made" scene, where he (spoilers) was unceremoniously executed. It was brutal, violent, and swift, but nonetheless necessary. Tommy, like Junior, was a loose cannon who was disrespectful to "made men" and became expendable despite the cost. Junior, like Tommy, could no longer be trusted by men who demanded loyalty above all else.
Even with all of the successes under Payton, the distractions seem to be excessive. It would be hard to see Tom Coughlin or Mike McCarthy operating their respective locker rooms in the same manner, but the strange stories and the disgruntled exes are just a little too commonplace in New Orleans. Of course, the Saints are not remotely the only franchise constantly dealing with absurdity behind closed doors. Every single franchise in the NFL has a litany of skeletons in their closets.
Just recent examples include the disastrous 2015 offseason in San Francisco, The "bully" scandal in Miami, New England's one-two punch of videotaping and game-ball deflation scandals, and basically any season under Jerry Jones in Dallas. This is just a glimpse into backstage problems in the NFL, but their problems are not our own. The Saints need to fix what ails them, and what ails the team concerns its supporters.
Under Sean Payton, the Saints have been a franchise that covets high moral character from its players, but there have been one too many allegations or actual instances of questionable behavior from its coaches and front office. In time, the nonsense becomes amusing, much like the frustrations of the Mora, Ditka, and Haslett eras, but now in real-time, in the era of instant social media, these issues are just as distracting and detrimental as they may be humorous.
The Saints can get past these issues, allegations, and distractions, they already have in the recent past, but the key is to not allow them to happen again. In light of the Galette saga, it is easy to see that Payton and the Saints brass are on the right course to correct these issues. Releasing Galette, owning up to the mistake made in allowing him to tear down those around him, even at the great financial burden that comes along with it, was a huge step.
If loyalty and character are cornerstones to Payton and the Saints, Galette exemplified none of it. This decision represented a crossroads for the Saints. Their path may be difficult from here, but the destination will be greater in the end. Despite any and all of the blemishes, I support Sean Payton, and I am proud to be a member of the Who Dat Nation.