Rumors of Sean Payton's imminent departure from the New Orleans Saints are premature, make that very premature.
On the eve of a huge NFL season opener pitting the last two Super Bowl champions against each at historic Lambeau Field, Payton has agreed to terms on a new contract with the Saints that will extend through the 2015 season.
"I am very pleased to announce this contract extension today for Sean that will run through the 2015 season," said Saints Owner Tom Benson. "Our goal is to continue to build a TRADITION of winning here in New Orleans and Sean represents that tradition."
That is good news for the Saints and should prove as a relief, a panacea to anxious and a few angry fans who felt certain that the best coach in franchise history was a year away from leaving New Orleans for the likes of Dallas or elsewhere.
After all, Payton had moved his family to suburban Dallas, talking about how much he and his family liked the area when then lived there previously when he was a member of the Cowboys' coaching staff. He even took the Saints to Oxnard, California, where the Cowboys previously spent time training. Apparently, Payton likes dining more in the New Orleans area more than pining for the Dallas Metroplex, enjoying touch football on the beach with guys with Cowboys ties or dissing Jerry Jones by stealing his favorite wine.
All kidding aside, this is a terrific move for both the Saints and Payton. It erases any doubts, any questions about Payton's future. It ensures stability for the franchise. It prevents other teams from discouraging potential free agents to sign with New Orleans because of Payton's possible departure.
By 2015, Payton hopes to have another Lombardi Trophy for Tom Benson, Rita Benson LeBlanc and Saints' fans.
Whether that occurs or not will not impact the impact he has made on the franchise.
Payton won a Super Bowl in the 2009 season. He took the Saints to the NFC championship game in the 2006 season. He is 49-31 in the regular season and 4-2 in the playoffs. He was the NFL Coach of the Year in 2006. He should have been the NFL Coach of the Year in 2009.
Jim Mora did an excellent job in New Orleans, giving the franchise its first winner ever. He could not get past the stigma of failing to win a playoff game.
If he serves the full term of his new deal through 2015, Payton will have served as the Saints' head coach for 10 seasons. Mora served as the head coach in New Orleans for 10-and-a-half seasons before quitting midway through the 1996 season.
To spend a decade as the head coach of any franchise in the NFL is the exception, rather than the rule.
Of the current NFL coaches in place, Philadelphia's Andy Reid is beginning his 13th season as head coach of the Eagles. Bill Belichick is starting his 12th season with the New England Patriots.
Jack Del Rio and Marvin Lewis are starting their ninth seasons as the head coaches of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively.
Lovie Smith and Tom Coughlin are entering their eighth seasons with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, respectively.
Like Payton, Mike McCarthy and Gary Kubiak are entering their sixth seasons with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans.
Jeff Fisher spent 17 years as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans before departing after the 2010 season, the longest run among NFL coaches in recent times.
Reid, Smith and Fisher coached their teams to Super Bowls. Belichick has won three Super Bowls and been to another. Coughlin won a Super Bowl. Payton and McCarthy have won Super Bowls.
Bottom line--10 year stints as head coaches in the NFL are rare. They are typically reserved for coaches who have achieved at a high level, for consistent winning coaches or for "company" guys who relate well to ownership and do not rock the boat.
Payton has achieved at the highest level, has won consistently, provided an exciting product and has a good relationship with Tom Benson. Whether it is Benson or Rita Benson LeBlanc calling the shots in the years to come, both owners recognize excellence when they see it. Payton is among the elite coaches in the NFL, a brilliant offensive mind.
By 2015, Drew Brees will likely be nearing the twilight of his terrific career. Payton and Brees are inextricably tied. Imagining one without the other in New Orleans is hard to fathom. Perhaps Payton continues on, signing another extension by 2015. Maybe he moves on to another franchise. Perhaps he turns to being a television analyst. There is a long distance to travel until then.
For now, the attention shifts to getting a new deal done for Brees. With Payton in the fold long-term, look for that process to be expedited and a deal to get done with the Saints' quarterback.
For anxious Saints fans who felt Payton had one foot out the door following his move to suburban Dallas with one year left on his contract, you can rest easy.
For those who remain angry about his family move and about the team spending a week in Oxnard and pondering the possibility in the future, there is no need to channel that anger toward Payton and the chance that he will turn his back on New Orleans and the Saints. He simply wants to provide his team, ownership and fans with the best opportunity to win.
What matters is not where Payton resides or where the Saints opt to train. While we would all prefer to see him in the midst of our neighborhoods and to see the Saints at their well funded, excellent training facility in Metairie, what matters is production, as in winning.
Say what you want about Payton and any real or perceived shortcomings. All are entitled to their opinions. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No one is perfect. We all fall short in certain areas.
What can be said is that he is an extreme competitor who burns red hot to win. He has done so, giving New Orleans its greatest sense of pride in this century. Locking him up was a great move by Benson and LeBlanc. Making the commitment was a great move by Payton which should dispel any notion of where his allegiance lies.
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