He's the only coach in franchise history to get his team to a conference championship game. He's done that twice.
And he, of course, is the only coach in franchise history to win a Super Bowl title.
In short, even if Payton never coached another game for the Saints, he'd go down as an all-time legend in the city of New Orleans.
And those are just his overall team accomplishments. We haven't even discussed his place on the list of great offensive minds in the game. After all, the Saints have had the most explosive, exciting and productive offense in the NFL over the past six seasons under Payton.
Payton is most known around the league for his offensive genius, though also for his great motivational skills and program implementation.
Joe Vitt ought to be able to use Payton's plan, which already in place, to take care of the program implementation. And Vitt is known, himself, as a master motivator.
The only issue is the play-calling. But the reality is that offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael is more than an adequate option.
In fact he is ready, steady, go in that spot.
That's because Carmichael had the luxury of calling plays a season ago full-time from Game 6 through the playoffs. And many credit him for taking the Saints offense to another level once he took over the play-calling reigns.
Let's take a look at some of the key statistics from the odd 2011 campaign to see the difference between pre- and post-Payton play-calling and effectiveness.
We'll take the first five games of the season of the season, when Payton was calling plays, and the final 10 games, when Carmichael called plays. We're subtracting the Tampa Bay game, since that was just a strange occurrence that even the most prepared of staffs (among which the Saints are right there) could not truly have been prepared for.
Those stats are intriguing, to say the least.
|Week||Rush Att||Rush Yards||Pass Plays||Pass Yds||Sacks||Net Yards||Points|
As already mentioned, the Week 5 Tampa Bay game was left out due to the in-game changing of hands in the play-calling department.
Here are some interesting statistics. In the five full games Payton was the lone play-caller, the offense attempted 134 rushes (26.8 per game). In the 10 games Carmichael was the primary play-caller, the Saints ran it 265 times (more to the point, 26.5 times per game).
Surprisingly, the team actually ran the ball 0.3 fewer times per game. That is statistically too close to suggest there was a major difference. But the numbers very conclusively suggest the team greatly improved its running productivity with Carmichael calling plays.
Under Payton the team gained 577 yards on the ground in five games (115.4 per game). In 10 games under Carmichael, the total number was 1,607 (160.7 per game).
Statistically, that is a large difference.
To explain these two numbers, I will actually back Carmichael and say that some of the games with low rushing-attempt numbers were must-pass games—or the Falcons' throw-a-thon game, when the team was committed to getting Drew Brees the single-season passing record on Monday Night Football. (It's also very likely Sean Payton took over play-calling at some point in that game.)
Eliminating those games from the sample size would be unfair; they must be used to understand these numbers accurately.
The main point is that Pete Carmichael is likely to run as much, if not more, than a season ago. In fact, with a potential four-headed running-back monster, the team will likely try to pound opposing teams into submission on many occasions.
How will the Saints' offense fair in 2012 with Pete Carmichael in control?
Given the defense will be down at least one key member the first four games of the regular season (Will Smith), running the ball and thus killing the clock would make sense for portions of the season.
As for the passing statistics, it is hard to notice a huge difference in terms of overall production. But the number of passing attempts per game dropped with Carmichael calling plays (46 with Payton, 42 with Carmichael).
Clearly the overall balance with Carmichael calling plays was better. It should also be noted that under Carmichael the team became more consistent in terms of protecting Drew Brees. With Payton calling plays, the Saints gave up at least one sack in all five games.
Aside from the aberration of the St. Louis Rams game, the Saints did not have a game with more than two sacks allowed under Carmichael.
And they actually had four games of not allowing any sacks.
Including the St. Louis game, the Saints allowed 12 sacks in Carmichael's 10 games. That is a 1.2 average. In five games under Payton, the team gave up 11 sacks (2.1 per game).
Much of that can be credited to the entire offensive coaching staff making adjustments. It certainly is not only a testament to Carmichael. But it shows the coaching staff in place is more than capable of keeping that going, even without Payton in the building in 2012.
In closing, the fact of the matter is that the Saints offense will not change dramatically in 2012. Pete Carmichael is an intelligent man, too. He will do a wonderful job of giving Drew Brees every opportunity succeed with play selection.
Truthfully, the team may run the ball a little more—two more times per game would be significant, and they may do that. With Ben Grubbs at left guard, it would make sense to add carries to the offensive game plan.
And because Grubbs and the rest of the Saints line is adept in pass protection, the team should be able to take care of some of the dangerous sack numbers.
Additionally, if Charles Brown were to somehow win the right tackle spot, the team would become more athletic on the right side. That would allow Carmichael to call more roll-out plays to the right side.
That may not seem like a big deal, until you realize that Drew Brees loves to get outside the pocket and thrown on the run. And much of the Saints route tree is geared toward the sideline.
If it were possible, the Saints could become an even more efficient passing team. Of course the inclusion of the sideline throws could help overcome what is likely to be a less-explosive offense, given the loss of Robert Meachem.
And that would also help the team improve in those sack numbers.
Funny how many of these things are cyclical, isn't it?