That wasn’t so much of a news conference that Sean Payton conducted Tuesday in stepping down as New Orleans Saints coach.
As one of my colleagues put it, it was more like a fireside chat.
Payton addressed the media for one hour, 32 minutes – I’m guessing he set another NFL record with that – which began with a 33-minute opening statement.
How fitting. Payton poured it out on the podium. We’ve seen his passion for 15 seasons as one of the NFL’s best coaches, a sharp strategist and in-your-face competitor who narrowly missed the playoffs this season yet still managed to turn in one of his best coaching jobs yet.
In the first season without Drew Brees, Payton went through four quarterbacks, had a team that evacuated from New Orleans for a month because of Hurricane Ida, suffered a slew of COVID-19 disruptions, never got a down from injured star wideout Michael Thomas and still finished 9-8.
In the end, Payton’s passion couldn’t will the Saints to the postseason. But you know he tried.
Just as evident as he ran his out route was that Payton rolls with such a human element.
For my money, Payton was the NFL’s best crisis manager among the coaching ranks. You can certainly make a case for Andy Reid, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin and Bill Belichick, too. The best ones know how to put out fires. Yet for Payton the crisis challenges, by NFL standards, seemed to go a bit further from the beginning, when he came to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and ignited a team the region rallied around as it recovered.
He knew it.
“This is more than just football,” Payton reflected of his start in New Orleans.
The results matter. Payton won 152 games and has a Super Bowl crown on his resume with a victory that was bolstered by arguably the gutsiest call ever on such a stage – opening the second half against the Colts with an onsides kick.
Yet Payton and the man who hired him, GM Mickey Loomis, realized that the foundation for results on the field began with…