Nothing is supposed to change.
That was the gist of the statement released by the New Orleans Saints on Thursday morning announcing Gayle Benson and not Rita LeBlanc, who previously was considered heir to her grandfather’s throne, will take control of the NFL’s Saints and the NBA’s Pelicans when Tom Benson passes away.
Those same sentiments were shared privately among those close to the situation. By ensuring Gayle Benson has control of the Saints and Pelicans, the hope is there will be seamless continuity within the two franchises, while also ensuring the teams remain in New Orleans.
Assuming Tom Benson’s children and grandchildren are unsuccessful in blocking Gayle Benson from inheriting the two franchises, which are worth a combined $1.76 billion, according to Forbes, supporters of these teams should feel comfortable about the future.
And if not from the entire city, Tom Benson, 87, at least has the support of those who could be directly impacted by this decision.
“Absolutely,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “I said from Day One when Mr. Benson took over the team that it is the best thing for our team, the best thing for the city, and I’m sure when the change becomes official, Mrs. Benson is going to do the same thing, what’s best for the team.”
Saints executive vice president and general manager Mickey Loomis voiced similar sentiments in a statement issued by the Saints.
“We have nothing but his unequivocal support, and that is important,” Loomis said. “We have been a successful franchise because of it. Nothing will change with that when Mrs. Benson becomes the owner. That stability creates an environment so that players and coaches want to come here.”
Part of creating that environment is by ensuring nothing changes when Gayle Benson, 67, takes over as owner. Dennis Lauscha (president) and Loomis will continue to lead at the executive management level, with those in the senior level management remaining in place. Further down the road, the trust created by Tom Benson ensures local executive business groups will always have prominence on the board of directors, per a source with knowledge of the situation.
In other words, in the near future, the power structure will remain unchanged. And as long as that remains true, at least on the Saints’ side, nothing is likely to change with this organization. Loomis is entrenched in his role with both franchises and serves on the board of directors — a situation that appears unique for a general manager.
“All I can say is, I absolutely love Gayle,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said while practicing for the Pro Bowl on Thursday in Glendale, Arizona. “I think she’s one of the sweetest people. I know she’s one of our biggest fans. Her presence at practice with Tom all the time and the way she treats the wives and the players, she’s first-class.”
After knocking Rita LeBlanc, Renee Benson and Ryan LeBlanc off the board of directors, the remaining members include Tom Benson, Lauscha and Loomis.
With more allies on the board, Loomis is unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon, which by proxy also means Saints coach Sean Payton will stick around as long as he’s producing results and has a desire to stay in town.
Before Payton re-upped with the Saints on a reported five-year, $37.5 million contract at the end of 2012, the initial contract he signed with the team was voided by the NFL because of a clause that would have allowed him to walk away from the deal if Loomis were fired, suspended, or walked away from the club.
While it has not be verified by The Advocate, at the time, Pro Football talk cited sources saying Payton wanted to ensure Loomis was around to serve as a buffer between he and Benson LeBlanc. If, indeed, true, that buffer is no longer required.
The same dynamic doesn’t exist for the Pelicans. But regardless of which Benson is at the helm, if a coaching change is seen as necessary soon for the underachieving club, when or if a long-term candidate is found in the future, Tom Benson is hopeful that person will enter a stable situation once his wife takes the helm.
“The future is bright and secure for both teams here in New Orleans,” Tom Benson said in a statement. “Plus, she will be surrounded by the best management team in sports in my opinion, just like I have been, who are committed to this community and committed to winning championships.”
Part of that stability is about ensuring both teams remain in New Orleans. There does not appear to be any cause for concern for at least a decade. The Pelicans agreement with the state will keep them here until 2024, while the Saints are locked in until 2025.
“We’re just thankful as a team for all that Mr. Benson has done for us, everything they gave us to be successful,” Pelicans star Anthony Davis said. “But we can’t get too caught up in that because we know we still have a job to do and focus on basketball and try to make this thing better.
“We know (the change in ownership) is going to take care of itself and everything will be fine.”
And if everything works out and no hiccups arise due to the change in his succession plan, Benson has set things up to prevent that from being an issue in the foreseeable future.
Advocate contributors Mike Cranston and Darrell Williams contributed to this story.