Sean Payton always talks about vision.
Vision for the offseason, vision for a young player’s development, vision for how a draft pick or free agent will fit into the New Orleans Saints’ scheme.
Dan Campbell believes that vision is what sets Payton apart.
“He’s always been a guy who’s got great vision,” Campbell said. “When he talks, you can see the vision that he has. I don’t think a lot of guys have that in him, and he does, so for me it was kind of a no-brainer to be back with him and be a coach under him and learn from him.”
Campbell understands better than most how important vision is to Payton’s position.
New Orleans hired Campbell as an assistant head coach (along with Joe Vitt) and tight ends coach this offseason after Payton’s former player spent 12 games as the interim coach in Miami, steering the Dolphins to a 5-7 mark after the team fired former coach Joe Philbin.
During his run, Campbell distinguished himself as a head coaching prospect with potential; players responded to his style.
“Number one, I think he’s a real good teacher. I think he’s tough. I think he is extremely talented,” Payton said. “He had an opportunity last year, midseason, to all of a sudden step in and be the head coach at Miami. I thought he did a great job, and I think that he is someone that will be a head coach in our league. I just know what type of guy he is, and I know that for us he was a great fit.”
Campbell interviewed with Miami to become the team’s full-time head coach, but when the Dolphins hired Adam Gase, a bidding war for Campbell began. New Orleans had stiff competition from the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys.
“You send in the permission and it is granted, so you get him in on a flight. Really, it is a matter of sitting down and going through the vision: ‘This is what we’d like you to do, this is the position and what I think you bring to the table,’ ” Payton said. “In his case, it was a little bit of a recruitment.”
The Saints had an ace in the hole in Payton, who coached Campbell in New York, Dallas and New Orleans during his playing career.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: He’s special,” Campbell said. “When he talks, it’s not just on a piece of paper and blah, blah, blah. It comes from his heart, it comes from his soul, and I respect that about him.”
Campbell, who likely placed himself on the rest of the NFL’s short list of potential head coaches with his stint in Miami, now has a chance to observe Payton in action from a coaching perspective and learn from him.
In return, Campbell understands everything Payton has to consider, and he can be a resource for his head coach. New Orleans has three assistants on the staff with experience as head coach — Vitt, Campbell and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen — and Payton will sometimes ask their opinion on a big-picture decision.
“Until you sit in that seat, you don’t really see the whole big picture,” Campbell said. “It just makes you respect a guy like coach Payton that much more, because you realize you have to deal with the logistics of dining, to setting up practice, to how we’re going to practice, the way we practice, to the meetings, to motivating your team.
“There’s so many things that go into it. There’s so much administration-type stuff. The fact that when things don’t always go right, you feel like the weight of the world’s on you. But then when you win, you’re still trying to make sure everything’s just right to keep it going.”