The man who guided the Saints out of the uncertainty of Hurricane Katrina and the embarrassment of the NFL basement is sticking around to try to return football greatness to New Orleans once again.
Sean Payton is staying the course.
Faced with a rising tide of speculation that hit a crescendo of conflicting reports, speculation and possible interest from other teams, Payton emerged Wednesday and said he’ll be with the Saints.
“I understand the interest, certainly the skepticism if you will, but this is where I plan on coaching,” Payton said. “And I don’t envision myself coaching for any other club.”
Payton has beaten back rumors that he might leave New Orleans for greener NFL pastures before.
But this time, with the Saints slogging through a second 7-9 season and facing another salary cap crunch that could force the team to make some tough financial decisions, the speculation hit a fever pitch with a trio of reports in the moments before New Orleans finished its regular season with a 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
National media outlets reported that Payton was looking for another opportunity, that the Saints were willing to let him go if a team could come up with the right combination of draft picks to pry away a coach with two more years left on his contract. Several reports said that the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers were all interested in making the move.
A decade into his time in New Orleans, Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis spent the better part of Monday and Tuesday discussing the team’s direction, but it never got to the point of exploring a break in the partnership that took the Saints to the mountaintop during the 2009 season, when they won Super Bowl XLIV.
Payton said the organizational structure will remain the same.
“I know Mickey’s too smart, and I know no one’s giving up the compensation that he was looking for or researching,” Payton said. “And that can only happen if I sign off on it.”
Without getting into specifics, Payton indicated that many of the reports that dominated ESPN, the NFL Network and Fox over the past three days were wrong.
Payton denied that either he or his agent, Don Yee, had been in contact with any other teams about his services.
“I feel like any time there’s possibly a report or a link, there’s an assumption that it’s coming from someone in my camp, and my camp is really small,” Payton said. “It’s just me and one other person.”
Payton instead spent the two days meeting with Loomis about the future of the Saints.
Loomis and Payton have worked well together for a decade, but there were some reports hinting that the relationship might have cooled, providing the possibility of departure.
Their relationship, both personal and professional, remains strong.
“The thing that I appreciate most, and I think he feels the same way. … We each like to win an argument, but I think it’s important in the discussions, when we’re going through things, we both have the ability to look at what’s best,” Payton said. “That’s what’s made it a great job. That’s what’s missing in a lot of organizations that spin their wheels.”
The entire Saints organization turned out in force for Payton’s news conference Wednesday, all the way from Loomis to owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle.
Payton remains in strong support of Benson, the man who gave him a chance to be a head coach.
“I’ll say this: The ownership, and the stability of the ownership position, is vital to having a chance,” Payton said. “It doesn’t guarantee success, but in many cases, it can guarantee a failure. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time in our league to win. Being one of those functional organizations gives you a chance to win.”
Winning is what Payton and Loomis spent two days discussing.
For the first time in Payton’s decade at the helm, the Saints are coming off of two losing seasons, a pair of 7-9 campaigns that partially spurred all of the speculation that Payton was ready to move on.
This 7-9 season felt different. A year ago, Payton has repeatedly said, the Saints had to clear out a toxic locker room and get the right kind of players. At this point last year, he felt more discouraged.
The character and effort of the 2015 team revitalized him.
“The main thing all the time — and it’s easy when I discuss (with) Mickey — is to really look closely at the things we need to improve,” Payton said. “Obviously, when you finish 7-9, and this is the second year in a row, you’re disappointed. We’ve grown accustomed to and certainly have an expectation of getting in the postseason.”
Fully entrenched and committed to New Orleans, Payton believes those expectations will be met again.
“There’s more moments, there’s more wins, there’s more playoffs,” Payton said. “I promise you, there will be.”