It’s that time of the year again folks! The annual ‘will he or won’t he’ guessing game in New Orleans is more vibrant than ever. There have been times when I wanted to move on from Sean Payton, and there have been times I have been thankful his job seemed more safe than J. Edgar Hoover’s. I can think of several reasons why I want Payton for-ev-er (think Sandlot Movie), and I can easily think of several reasons why I may prefer a change in leadership.
In the NFL, it’s very much a what have you done for me lately kind of business. Super Bowl winning coaches like Brian Billick and Tom Coughlin have been given the pink slip for posting consecutive losing seasons, and unless the Saints eat Dirty Bird this Sunday, Payton might post his third consecutive 7-9 losing season.
Few coaches stick around with one franchise for more than ten years. Currently, only the Patriots’ Bill Belichick (hired in 2000), the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis (hired in 2003), the Packers’ Mike McCarthy (hired in 2006), and Payton (hired in 2006) have been employed by the same franchise for such a long tenure.
Out of those three coaches, only Belichick (74% win percentage) has avoided any possible internal mutinies. McCarthy had to give up play calling duties at one point and before the Packers made their December resurgence, and his coaching seat was as hot as New Orleans in August. Payton has steamrolled through multiple defensive coordinators while seemingly being able to lay most of each underachieving season’s blame on his defensive counterparts.
So, let’s start with that angle: stability and consistency. There are pros and cons of course. With Payton, you know Drew Brees will be comfortable and happy. The two of them are like freakin’ E.T. and Elliot for God’s sake. When one thinks audible, the other seems to know without any extra communication. With the exception of Tom Brady and Belichick, their understanding for what is expected out of each other is unparalleled.
They respect each other. They love each other. They work well together. Their relationship is one more like that of peers than coach and player. No Saints player’s impact on the game besides Cam Jordan’s is close to Brees', and since the future first ballot Hall of Famer is locked up a couple more seasons, it makes perfect sense to keep his wingman in office.
While we are talking about stability and consistency, one thing you know you’re gonna get from Payton is a well-oiled and productive offense. Since Payton began coaching the Saints in 2006, their offense has never ranked lower than 6th, and was the number one overall offense five different times (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2014). You don’t have to tell me that’s awesome and makes for some fun football to watch.
And even though many fans think the Saints offense has become predictable, read Nick Underhill’s article from The Advocate last week. The Saints offense is ever-evolving and being run out of multiple sets. Payton has evolved when necessary. Just look at the run game this year. Ingram is only 67 yards away from becoming Payton’s first 1,000-yard running back in a decade.
So, stability and consistency kicks ass, right? Well, maybe not if your head coach refuses to upgrade his coaching staff which is filled with his underachieving best friends. For instance, with Payton, you know you are going to get middling linebacker play and zero elite, in-house, Saints drafted linebackers. Why’s that? Because Joe Vitt sucks as a linebacker coach.
Last year, Cam Jordan gave an interview (I apologize I couldn’t find it, which was super frustrating) where he basically said that Vitt doesn’t like rookies because he has to coach them up. He’d rather have veterans who already know what to do. Can you imagine if your kindergarten teacher told you, “Just figure out how to read on your own! I can’t be bothered to teach you that mess.”
Sorry Vitt, but it’s your job dude. You are a coach. This is the reason why the Saints haven’t developed one decent drafted linebacker in 10 years under Payton. Think about it. Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Curtis Lofton, and Craig Robertson were all free agents and already knew how to play the position at this level. Payton claims Stephone Anthony has bad instincts, but the Clemson grad is one of the fastest and most athletic players on ANY field. His lack of development rests solely on Vitt’s inability to develop pure, raw talent.
With Payton, you know you are going to get so-so special teams play because he refuses to fire another one of his BFF’s from his days at Eastern Illinois. Greg McMahon has been shielded by the best punter (in my opinion) in the game, Thomas Morstead. Ever since Morstead perfectly executed that onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV, his perennial Pro Bowl level of play has covered up the fact that McMahon continuously fields a bottom ranked unit in both kickoff and punt yards returned and covered.
With Payton, you know you are going to get middling defensive line play. If Cam Jordan didn’t absolutely dominate the line of scrimmage by himself, the Saints might be last in the league in sacks and pressures. You also know that players are going to get hurt a lot, and then be rushed back into action prematurely only to sustain a more serious injury that keeps them out indefinitely.
Think Delvin Breaux. His leg was hurt, but the trainers (hired under Payton) wrapped him up and sent him back out so he could break the shit out of his fibula so that it required surgery. If he had stayed out the rest of the game like he should have, then maybe he would have only been out a few weeks with a cast and avoided surgery, which by the way, is NEVER easy to come back from and can lead to infection. Think Tim Hightower, who missed three years due to an infection following routine ACL repair surgery.
But when you play for Payton, you play no matter what. Remember Keenan Lewis? He refused to play hurt and requested more time to recover. Word on the street was that Payton cut him to send a message to other players that if they weren't willing to put their bodies on the line and play hurt, he wouldn’t keep them on the roster. Obviously Lewis hasn’t been able to suit up for anyone else this year, so it was a good move to free up a roster spot, but the message received in the locker room is play at all costs, or risk getting cut, even if it’s going to set you back.
With Payton, you know you are going to get one opportune timeout a game as well as at least one head scratching timeout that usually comes at the beginning of the third quarter, maybe even while coming out of another timeout, that no doubt leads to a missed opportunity at the end of the game because the Saints can’t stop the clock when they need to. Yes, that was one sentence.
I feel like I’m focusing too much on the negatives right now. I swear I actually love Payton. I just think you get certain things that come along with him that aren’t as great as he is on his own. Back to some good things you get with Payton at the helm.
When Brandin Cooks and Mark Ingram both threw lame-ass temper tantrums midseason after team wins, I thought, “Payton’s lost the locker room. The players only care about individual performance and can’t put the team first.”
Well, I don't think Payton has lost the locker room at all. In fact, the way he managed both those situations, which was clearly in house, was swift and professional. Payton featured Cooks heavily in the game following his Twitter post that lead to some pundits thinking he would demand a trade. Cooks went ahead and had his best game yet.
Same with Ingram. Payton featured the back heavily in the game following his sideline outburst and Ingram even thanked Payton for being so understanding about him losing his temper in such a public way. In both situations, Payton fed the monster and the monster seems happy now. Crisis averted. Only a veteran head coach knows how to temper the egos of 53 grown men making vastly different salaries.
With Payton, you are going to get a well-prepared and well-thought-out game plan. Each week, Payton will carefully dissect the opponent and look for weakness to exploit. There are no pre-prepared, in-stock game plans with him. He treats every week as he should; a new opponent that poses a totally unique challenge compared to the previous opponent.
With Payton, you know you are going to get emotion and accountability. He is never afraid to chew someone out on the sidelines if they aren’t doing their job. Remember when he yelled at the equipment guy for bringing Spearmint instead of Juicy Fruit? That’s commitment. But seriously, that moment shows just how much the small details matter to Payton, and in the game of football, the even the smallest detail can be the difference between winning and losing.
There will be many articles stating whether the Saints should retain or ditch Sean Payton. CSC’s very own Deuce Windham has already built a strong case for keeping Payton around. But what do you think?