Lately, it has almost become as much a part of the New Orleans Saints’ weekly routine as watching game film: The team loses a game, there’s a national media report of dysfunction within the organization and coach Sean Payton eviscerates whoever wrote the story.
Payton was at it again Thursday, four days after his team lost to the 4-8-1 Carolina Panthers and three days after MMQB.com’s Peter King opined that the Saints coach might consider bolting town at the end of a season that has seen New Orleans lose eight of its first 13 games.
“It’s silly,” Payton said of King’s statements. “You’ve got to consider the source ... for obvious reasons. There’s absolutely no way.”
Payton’s disdain of King predates Thursday, the Saints’ first full day of preparations for their upcoming “Monday Night Football” game at Chicago (5-8). The coach of the Saints (5-8) took exception with King’s reporting on the bounty scandal that resulted in Payton’s suspension for the 2012 season.
Payton again invoked that sentiment after being asked for his response to a video posted on TheMMQB.com that had King saying about the Saints coach, “This is his ninth year. A lot of times a coach gets to be in his ninth, 10th, 11th year in a place and he starts to feel a little wanderlust, he starts to feel, ‘Are they still listening to my voice? Are they still getting my message?’ ”
King noted that Payton’s mentor, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, was vigilant about leaving teams before the situation soured.
“I wonder if Sean Payton is going to get that wanderlust and try to go somewhere at the end of this unsuccessful Saints season,” King said.
Reasons to doubt Payton’s departure are numerous. One is that he’s signed through the 2017 season, and getting out of his contractual obligations wouldn’t be easy. Another is that, while he has coached the Saints to three of their five division titles, half of their 10 playoff appearances and their lone Super Bowl championship, Payton has had tough seasons in New Orleans before.
The Saints were 7-9 and 8-8 under Payton in 2007 and 2008, missing the postseason both times. He stuck it out, and the Saints stood by him.
Nonetheless, Payton didn’t allude to any of that. He instead settled on questioning King’s credibility. And his players followed suit.
In the locker room after practice Thursday, veteran Saints right tackle Zach Strief said, “What does Peter King know? That’s Peter King’s opinion, and Peter King isn’t here — ever. Peter King watches 16 games — kind of — a week. And then he writes his opinion and gets paid to say controversial things.”
Both Strief and left tackle Terron Armstead said Payton didn’t even acknowledge the existence of King’s remarks to them.
It’s not the coach’s habit to bring his team’s attention to what he dismisses as “splash” media stories, Armstead said. After the Saints lost to Baltimore on Nov. 24, Payton similarly treated reports that New Orleans was intent on firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and regretted not already having a successor for quarterback Drew Brees.
Still, Armstead said, Payton’s ignoring King’s thoughts re-emphasized to his players that “there’s no point on speaking on that type of thing.”
“We know where his heart is,” Armstead said. “His heart is in New Orleans with this team.”
It’s not all that hard to believe it. As bad as things seemed when New Orleans lost by 31 points to Carolina on Sunday, the Saints will make the playoffs without relying on tiebreakers if they win their final three games: at Chicago on Monday, against Atlanta (5-8) at home Dec. 21 and at Tampa Bay (2-11) on Dec. 28.