Payton move not exactly doomsday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A year ago, Sean Payton sat in the center of New Orleans’ universe. Today, he sits in the same spot, but for different reasons.

When it came out last week that Payton was moving his family to a home in Dallas, speculation ran rampant. Is he setting himself up to coach in Dallas? He seemed really comfortable on ESPN … is he going into broadcasting? WHY ARE YOU TOO GOOD FOR NEW ORLEANS?

As a lifelong Saints fan, I think it’s a curious move – and one I’d rather have not had to consider – but I don’t think it’s any kind of sign that Payton is leaving his post anytime soon.

For starters:

Could Sean Payton leave Drew Brees? In his prime? It would be tough for me to see it. A lot of coaches – most, in fact – go their entire career without an elite passer captaining his team. Payton knows he has a chance to win a LOT in New Orleans with Brees as the leader of his team. A chance to build a dynasty – end of 2011 notwithstanding. If he leaves Brees now, it’s more likely than not that he won’t coach another passer of his caliber – ever.

Don’t forget, this is PAYTON’S offense. He’s not a defensive guy letting an offensive coordinator call plays in or a figurehead who oversees everything like a Bill Parcells. He calls every play. When the offense succeeds, he gets the credit. When it fails, he gets the blame. And I don’t think he’d have it any other way. As long as he and Brees stay joined at the hip, winning and piling up statistics, his legend grows – he’s already a deity in New Orleans, even if this move to Dallas has dinged him in the eyes of many.

I don’t think Payton will be here for another 8-to-10 years like a Jeff Fisher. But I do think he’ll at the very least stick out Drew Brees’ prime before pulling up stakes as things start to go downhill, ala Parcells, his mentor. He’s not going to leave a good thing while it’s still good.

No job offer in the NFL comes this far in advance. If Payton’s eyes were on a move to coach with Dallas, he’d be making the jump now. I know this because there is absolutely no reason to believe that Jason Garrett – you know, the team’s new head coach, the one who just signed

a four year deal – is going to fall flat on his face.

Under Garrett, the Cowboys were a lot more competitive. He’s a disciplinarian taking over a team that was one of the most undisciplined in the league under Wade Phillips. The Cowboys boast what will be the league’s best 1-2 punch at wide receiver next season in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, will have a returning Tony Romo, and a defense led by manbeast DeMarcus Ware, who we watched almost singlehandedly end our Saints’ undefeated start in 2009.

There’s no way to just assume Payton’s waiting on a job offer in Dallas that may never come. Nor is there reason to assume that Jones would just pony up a four-year deal to a guy when he already had designs on another coach.

It’s been done before. We haven’t really seen it done in this fashion – usually, in the cases of coaches like Tony Dungy (Tampa) and Doc Rivers (Orlando) coaches leave their families rooted in a community they’ve left, they don’t uproot the family to go to another city midstream.

But essentially, isn’t it the same thing? Don’t forget, this isn’t random … the Paytons lived in Dallas before ever moving to New Orleans. Maybe they just feel that they see themselves ending up back there one day and now was the time to buy that home. During the season, NFL coaches essentially live at their job anyway.

In fact, before he ever took the job, he asked Mickey Loomis if commuting from his home in Dallas would be in the cards. Loomis said no.

Clearly, Payton has a bit more leverage now.

Anyway … odd, sure. But this is the same coach who called an onside kick in the Super Bowl … he’s not really afraid of taking the path less traveled. If Rivers can do it and Dungy could do it, then why can’t Payton?

Maybe he’s already plotting his exit from New Orleans to broadcasting, like his good friend Jon Gruden. Except Gruden was fired from Tampa Bay after years of coaching Brad Johnson, Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia, not in the midst of a run with an NFL Uber-QB. Broadcasting will be there later.

It’ll never sit well with all New Orleanians. You already know: this is very much a place where you’re either one of us, or you’re not. A lot of people feel betrayed, maybe if for no other reason than because Payton just seemed like he BECAME one of us after that Super Bowl. The raw emotion he showed after the Super Bowl win. His clear understanding of what it meant to the region. His speech at the end of the NFC Championship game, when he proudly proclaimed that our city was underwater once, but no more. It was back.

His book, Home Team, was essentially an ode to the city and the place that he and his players shared in it and to helping it rebuild.

So people can feel what they want, and to an extent I can’t blame them. Disappointment is understandable.

But Payton is still the guy that brought us a Super Bowl. He’s still the ONLY guy to do so. He’s still the guy that clearly understands our unique fanbase. He just so happens to also be a guy that puts his family first – and if he thinks Dallas presents a better life for them, then I can’t fault him.

Even if I’m very wrong and his end as Saints coach is near … it won’t change my opinion of him. Maybe Jerry Jones will offer him that boatload of money to be coach, general manager, and King of Dallas. Maybe he’ll follow Gruden to ABC, join the eleventy billion-headed monster at NBC, or just retire.

But whatever the guy does, the background on my desktop is going to still be Payton, his car swarmed by a sea of rabid Who Dats, thrusting the Lombardi Trophy out of the sunroof of his car.

Anything else he does is gravy.

The dude finished the job.