The one thing Sean Payton wants people to know is that he is not Bill Parcells.
Payton looks at his mentor like a father figure — and even mentioned Parcells resembles his father — and seeks his input on many decisions, both large and small.
When Payton was out of the NFL for a year, he sought Parcells’ input on a coaching decision while overseeing his son’s youth football team. And at some point over the past few days, he called Parcells to talk about his future with the Saints.
That’s the role Parcells plays in Payton’s life. So when speculation starting popping up earlier this season about Payton potentially looking to bolt New Orleans, many assumed he would — Parcells often developed wanderlust and bounced around between jobs.
The issue is that people failed to realize the two men are different people with different ideals.
“We’re different in some ways, and that’s OK,” Payton said. “In other words, his first question would be, ‘Well then how you getting it fixed?’ It’s a good question and that’s what we’re going to figure out.”
Payton will figure those things out — or at least attempt to — which wasn’t so clear until he sat down at a microphone Wednesday afternoon and spoke for an hour about how he’s committed to this team and city and hopes to coach here for the rest of his career.
For those who attempted to connect the dots between Payton and his mentor, this is likely a stunning turn after speculation circulated for weeks about the Saints coach taking off to somewhere like New York, Miami or Indianapolis. But if he is to be believed, Payton never truly considered going somewhere else. New Orleans is home to him.
Members of the Parcells tree weren’t taught this lesson. No, by going from place to place, you never had to worry about your message becoming stale or getting too comfortable in one place.
Growing stale is one of the reasons many cited when discussing reasons for Payton to leave. He’s been here since 2006 and the idea was floated that maybe a new voice could better reach this team after consecutive 7-9 finishes. If his message had, indeed, worn thin, then the organization’s hopes of turning things around would be slim.
Payton has even considered this possibility himself. Sometimes he starts telling a story or harping on a certain point and catches himself wondering if he’s already spoken the words and worries the players will tune him out.
Then he looks around and realizes how much his roster has turned over and that nearly everyone in the room is actually hearing what’s saying for the first time.
“Man, 10 years is a long time,” Payton said. “I’ve read and seen sometimes where the message can grow old or become maybe not as effective, and yet I think that really applied to teams 10, 15, 20 years ago when rosters didn’t have the movement.”
This might have been a larger concern for someone like Parcells, who took his first head coaching job in 1983, nearly a decade before unrestricted free agency began as we now know it in 1992.
In today’s NFL, the roster is constantly being restocked with new players. Only four players — Jahri Evans, Zach Strief, Marques Colston and Drew Brees — have been with New Orleans since Payton arrived in 2006. And only five players have been here longer than three seasons.
For Payton, the bigger concern is staying energized. He admitted he didn’t feel that way coming off the 2014 season. The issues were bigger than football. The locker room had gone bad and that was discouraging to the Saints coach.
After ridding the team of some of those bad elements and restocking with guys of high character, this year’s 7-9 finish has rejuvenated Payton.
He cited several individual moments — how the team reacted to a dropped pass by Willie Snead in the first game against Carolina and the reaction on the sideline after Tim Hightower picked up a game-sealing first down in the second game against Tampa Bay — as evidence of the team heading into the right direction.
“I’m very clear, I’m very happy and focused and excited about what’s to come, with no script,” Payton said. “It’s real. I think different than a year ago, you get motivated as a teacher when your students are as excited about excelling as you are as a teacher. I felt that this year.”
Payton and the Saints are betting on that feeling. They know things have to be better and they’ll continue to evaluate how to improve the roster and the coaching staff. That process will continue after each and every season.
Again, if Payton is to be believed, he’ll be doing that the foreseeable future. He says he doesn’t want to coach anywhere else. At some point, though, he knows it will come to an end.
“There will be a time where they don’t want you back, and that’s OK. … One by one, that train stops for all of us,” Payton said, and then referenced a line often said by Parcells. “We’re better for having ridden, then never having been on at all.”
The same could have been said for Payton, who has already delivered this town a championship, if he had gotten off. But it looks like there won’t be anymore stops for a while.