Sean Payton and the Saints: A Retrospective

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

We take a look back on Sean Payton's career as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, what the team was like before him, and his potential future.

Recently, this writer came across a book former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton published in 2010 entitled: Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life. It lead to some thinking back on his decorated career as the Saints head coach, and taking on a team previously known as the "Aints", which of course being the lowly nickname given to the team by frustrated fans prior to Payton, to respectability.

Hired by the Saints in 2006, Payton took on a team and a city still recovering from the wake of the disastrous Hurricane Katrina at that time. Of course, one man can't turn around the misfortune of an entire city, but he did turn the Saints into consistent contenders ultimately winning an unlikely Super Bowl, the franchise's first and only, in 2009.

"Unlikely'' is said because at one time, there was a notion that "hell would freeze over" before the Saints won a Super Bowl. Also, they were underdogs going against a well-oiled offensive machine in Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

In his 16 years as head coach, the Saints made it to the playoffs nine times, including three NFC Championship Game appearances and the aforementioned Super Bowl victory, making him by far the most successful coach in Saints' history, so far.

Payton stepped down as Saints head coach last season and went into sports commentary. There was speculation by some fans that he ran the team into the ground and retired to wait for another opportunity. That's speculation, but perhaps he wanted (or needed) to step away after being in the same place for 16 years.

During his time off, there was talk about teams pursuing him for their head coach position, and the terms he was looking for if he decided to do so. If another team wanted his services, they would have to give the Saints compensation, because technically Payton was still under contract with the Saints.

The Denver Broncos took the bait; hiring him as head coach in February, giving the Saints their 2023 first-round pick and a second-round pick for next year in exchange for Payton and their 2024 third-round pick. This writer is of the opinion that trading for a head coach is an unnecessary risk, regardless of who it is, but some team was always going to be goofy and desperate enough to give that up for Payton, given his success with the Saints.

On a side note, now that he's in Denver, going by the uncharacteristic struggles of Broncos' quarterback Russell Wilson last season, because of Sean's success as a head coach and his reputation as one of the best offensive minds of all time, if anybody can get "Russ" back on track, it's Payton.

Finally, it's funny thinking back in the day how the organization and a lot of Saints fans seemed to be satisfied with minimum success. For example, when Jim Haslett, the coach before Payton, guided the team to their first playoff win in 2000, upsetting the then-St. Louis Rams, the team never went any further after that, and he was there for a while before they finally fired him in 2005.

The notion at the time was that if most people here were content with Haslett's brief success, if a coach ever won the team a Super Bowl, he would be here for a long time. It would take for him to decide to leave. Well, that's pretty much what happened.

Next. From a departure to a return. dark