Scooter Hobbs column: Mixed emotions over Payton

Published 9:53 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

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By Scooter Hobbs

It’s quite the conundrum for Saints fans.

So how do you feel about Sean Payton getting back into the NFL as head coach of the Denver Broncos?

Do you still appreciate all the good he did for a team that had had only scattered outbreaks of success before he arrived.

Or do you feel betrayed that he left?

It’s tricky.

It reminds you a little bit of LSU fans’ relationship with Nick Saban.

I constantly have to remind people that the Tigers’ faithful didn’t really seem to get mad at Saban for leaving LSU.

Disappointed, yes. But it was somewhat expected that one day he’d eventually have to scratch that NFL itch and give the pro game a shot, and the Dolphins looked appetizing.

No. It was only when he came back to the SEC — specifically, to the Tigers’ Crimson nemesis at Alabama — that the pettiness came out of the woodwork.

But when he originally left, far from feeling betrayed, LSU fans wished him well in the NFL. Even his first year in Miami, when due to Hurricane Katrina the displaced Saints hosted his Dolphins in Tiger Stadium, the crowd that showed up gave him an appreciative ovation.

No hard feelings. The Saints, still a year away from hiring Payton and having Drew Brees fall into their lap, were helpless anyway. So the game held no real mystery. Saban could have taken a victory lap and the crowd might have showered him with purple-and-gold confetti.

It was Saban going to Alabama — oh, the gall! — that forever changed that relationship.

In the same way, I’m guessing, Saints fans didn’t really begrudge Payton taking his retirement and riding off into the sunset.

If it’s time to hang it up, then wish him well and thank him for the best years of the Who Dat nation.

Nobody ever thought it would last forever. And, just to clarify, I was semi-kidding back when I used to say the Saints might as well disband the franchise if Payton and Brees ever departed the building.

But now that Payton’s retirement has turned out to be just a one-year sabbatical, it almost looks as if he was more burned out on New Orleans than he was with the rigors of the NFL.

It could have been worse. What if he’d come out of retirement to coach the Falcons? And he did interview with fellow division rival Carolina.

One does wonder, however, what he might have done if the Saints’ coaching job had been open — and it should have been, given the disaster of Dennis Allen’s first season as head coach. Would Payton have been interested in trying to pick up where he left off? Or was the whole point to get out of NOLA to begin with?

Those closer to the situation say Payton would have been interested had there been an opening. In fact, columnist Jeff Duncan wrote that Payton himself told him he would have been very interested.

Surely the Saints knew that, and it makes it all the more curious that Allen was still around and it couldn’t happen.

But about the only thing now that could bruise any feelings would be, in the uber competitive but very fluid NFL, for Payton to get the best of the Saints in an off-field move.

He’s already hired away one Saints staffer, assistant offensive line coach Zach Streif, and is reportedly targeting three more.

Given the Saints’ 7-10 season, you might say, big deal, good riddance.

Then again, if Payton wants them, they must be good coaches, right?

Anyway, the Broncos do seem like as good of a buffer as any. Not the same division, not the same conference, barely the same NFL.

Frankly, I can’t remember the last time, if ever, the Saints played the Broncos.

You might even forget Payton is back in the NFL. But I doubt it.

— Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at