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Why Sean Payton is still the right fit for the New Orleans Saints

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After three consecutive losing seasons, many are asking if Sean Payton is still the right coach for the job. I was lucky enough to meet the head coach of the New Orleans Saints just once. It was the summer of 2014, in the parking lot of The Greenbrier following a training camp practice. After a casual conversation that lasted only a few minutes, but for someone that has followed his career closely, I know my answer. What’s yours?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Payton became the 16th head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2006 (10 full-time and 6 interim). Payton took over a franchise that was arguably at its lowest point in its less than glorious history. Hurricane Katrina had just devastated the entire Gulf Coast region less than one year before. The 2005 Saints were forced to play their "home games" in San Antonio or the campus of Louisiana State University on their way to a 3-13 season. There were even some rumors that owner Tom Benson would relocate the Saints to San Antonio or Los Angeles.

Payton's first head coaching job in the National Football League was going to be with a franchise that had exactly ONE playoff victory in it's first 39 years of existence. His list of accolades over ten years later since speak for themselves. Payton's 94 career victories are the most in Saints history, and his .588 winning percentage is a franchise high. Payton led the Saints to their first ever road playoff victory, and of course their only Super Bowl championship to date. His three division titles, five playoff appearances, and 6-4 postseason record are franchise bests, and he and Jim Mora are tied for the most career winning seasons with five apiece. Payton's record-breaking offenses have always been among the best in the league. History may recognize the Saints passing attack as one of the best ever.

A third consecutive 7-9 season under Payton's watch has the national media consistently reporting that his job might now be in jeopardy, or even that Payton himself might want out of New Orleans. Rumors that Payton had "lost the locker room" in 2014 were followed by erroneous reports that Payton was exploring trades to New York, Miami, Indianapolis, or Los Angeles over each of the last two offseasons. Accusations of Payton's coaching message growing stale to the players, or even he himself getting tired or wanting a change of scenery. All of this has some of even the most die-hard Saints fans wondering: Is Sean Payton the Right Fit for This Team?

The argument that Payton has grown tired or "burned out" is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as the accusation that the coach's philosophy has grown stale with this team. Bill Belichick just won his fifth Super Bowl in his 17th year with the New England Patriots. Mike Tomlin won a division title in his 10th year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin's predecessor, Bill Cowher, won a Super Bowl title in his 14th season. Only eleven of the current coaches in the NFL have even coached in a Super Bowl, and Sean Payton is one of only six active coaches that can lay claim to being a championship head coach. Good coaches are always good coaches. It's really that simple.

Anyone that doubts Coach Payton's fire or intensity needs to pay closer attention to the New Orleans sideline. Two recent games in particular stand out: the Saints Week 6 win against the defending NFC champion Panthers, and their Week 12 thrashing of the Rams. Payton's sideline intensity and aggressive game planning were only the most obvious example of his entire season. One could argue that the head coach was one of the major reasons why an injury ravaged Saints squad was within only one score in seven of their nine losses.

In 2006, Payton's first year with the Saints, the team advanced to the conference championship game for the first time in club history. The following two years the Saints missed the playoffs, but there was a plan in place becoming evident. When New Orleans hired Payton, they hired an idealistic aggressor who had in his mind exactly what it would take to build a champion. This plan came to fruition in the 2009 season, and very nearly again in 2011.

Last year's Saints were only a step in Sean Payton's new plan. Aging veterans and underperforming free agents from other teams were the undoing of the Saints three years ago, and this team needed to be remade. The 2016 New Orleans Saints had 24 players that were 25-years old or younger and/or with less than four years of NFL football experience on their roster. Sean Payton is remaking this team in a similar model to the championship squad of 2009. While there is still much work to be done, Saints fans would benefit in having confidence in it's champion head coach.