John Morton isn’t worried about leadership.
While the New Orleans Saints’ new wide receivers coach wasn’t with the program during last year’s 7-9 campaign, he didn’t understand where all the questions about a lack of leadership were coming from during minicamp.
“People say you don’t have leaders on this team,” Morton said. “What’s the coach? I’m the leader. I’m there to help them and put them in the best position. I’ll do whatever it takes to get them ready to play.”
Morton isn’t new to New Orleans. He was with the team in 2006 as an offensive assistant before taking off to coach at Southern California in 2007, first as a wide receivers coach and then as offensive coordinator, before hooking on with the San Francisco 49ers as a wide receivers coach in 2011. The Saints brought him back this offseason to coach the receivers.
Perhaps more so than any other position, New Orleans will need Morton to bring his guiding hand and leadership to the meeting room. It could be argued Marques Colston is the only finished product at the receiver position. Everyone else is either still raw, developing, or new to the system.
For this group to replace the production of the departed Kenny Stills and tight end Jimmy Graham, who often split out as a receiver, it will be up to players like Brandin Cooks, Brandon Coleman, Seantavius Jones and Nick Toon to take the next step in their developments.
Morton will play a big role in making that happen. And while he says this is the youngest group of receivers he has ever worked with, he sees the inexperience as an advantage since he can mold the players how he wants them to be and doesn’t have to work to knock out bad habits.
“I think it’s great. They’re a great bunch of guys,” Morton said. “They work their butts off every single day. That’s half the battle.”
Morton said he learned how to coach working under Jon Gruden in Oakland, where he served in the personnel department, as an offensive assistant and then as the tight ends coach from 1997-2004. He also learned the West Coast offense during his time in Oakland.
And what Gruden couldn’t teach him, Morton learned from working with players like Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Randy Moss and Anquan Bolden. He also worked with Norv Turner for one season and with Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego in 2005 and again in San Francisco.
He also believes he has an advantage over some position coaches since he played the position he now teaches. Morton played in college at Western Michigan and then spent time with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. He also had stints on the practice squads of the Raiders and Green Bay Packers.
Through those experiences, Morton has developed a philosophy on how to teach players.
“I was taught through some great coaches,” Morton said. “What I do is teach them the whole thing, not just one thing, so they understand the whole thing.
“I’ve done that wherever I’ve been and the guys seem to pick up on that.”
Morton is still opening to learning and picking up new things. At his other stops, he always used to tell players about how he worked with Colston during the 2006 season.
Colston’s story is well known here, but Morton loved to share it with people outside of the borders. The Saints acquired him in the seventh round of the draft. And while it could be argued the rest of the league overlooked his talent, a lot of Colston’s success can be attributed to hard work on the field and in the classroom.
“He was almost the last pick,” Morton said. “To do what he’s done since he’s been here — you can put it up there.”
What he’s done is catch 666 passes for 9,239 yards with 68 touchdowns since entering the league. Since coming back, Morton has spent plenty of time talking to Colston, trying to figure out what he’s done and learned along the way.
“He’s been consistent on a high level. It’s just been a privilege to be back with him,” Morton said. “I pick his mind. What has he learned? What have I learned?”
What Morton has learned since taking off will play a big role in determining how this group turns out.