Is Sean Payton Ghost-Coaching the New Orleans Saints?

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Is Sean Payton Ghost-Coaching the New Orleans Saints?
Chuck Cook -USA TODAY Sports
At 5-7, the Saints remain postseason contenders without Sean Payton.

For all we know, Sean Payton could be coaching the New Orleans Saints right under the NFL's nose.

It's an interesting thought, because the entire set of circumstances surround Payton requires a lot of trust from the NFL.

In an article by Sam Borden of the New York Times:

The language of [Sean] Payton’s suspension says that he is “prohibited from direct or indirect communication of any sort with employees of the 32 clubs, including through third parties; and such prohibited communications shall include, but are not limited to, phone or electronic contact.”

Harsh as that might sound, it seems all but impossible to enforce. Rick Nelson, a counterterrorism and intelligence expert who works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a telephone interview that “from a technical perspective, there’s really very little the N.F.L. can do” to keep Payton from being in touch with his coaches or players if he wants to make contact.

In terms of trying to monitor Payton’s activities, Nelson added, the N.F.L.’s options are limited. The league is restricted by basic privacy laws — meaning, for example, it cannot be like the Central Intelligence Agency and tap Payton’s phones.

Obviously, the easiest aspect of the suspension the NFL can enforce is Payton being prohibited to appear at the Saints' facilities and practices.

Still, a phone call to Drew Brees or Joe Vitt every so often would be nearly impossible to prevent. In addition, Payton can watch the Saints' games on television along with all the analysis from every network.

As a result, the guy has access to breaking down opponents and creating game-plans because of technology. With all that said, though, what are the possibilities of this actually happening?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Slim to none, because coaching requires so much interpersonal communication and dissecting film with one's players. In short, a lot more efficient work regarding preparation gets done when discussing the game-plan in person.

Considering that this is pro football, the amount of time and effort required each week cannot be done over the phone or via email. There's simply too much emphasis on the most minuscule of details, which is best suited to construct on the practice field and in the film room.

For anyone that has played football at any level, the game becomes more in-depth each season.

Whether it's technology for breaking down film, quarterbacks making pre-snap reads and defenses constantly disguising schemes, it's imperative to have in-person communication.

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With Sean Payton unable to coach, New Orleans is fortunate to have Drew Brees under center. His ability to make pre-snap reads, in-game adjustments and lead his team is why NOLA remains in the NFC playoff picture.

Could you imagine if Chase Daniel were at the helm instead?

Needless to say, the Big Easy would not be 5-7.

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Now, it's not like Brees does not need Payton.

After all, New Orleans would not have won a Super Bowl in 2009-10 without Payton getting Brees in 2006. Since then, the quarterback's numbers have also been ridiculously inflated courtesy of a Payton's pass-heavy approach (by comparison to 2001 through 2005 with the San Diego Chargers).

Nonetheless, it's hard to believe that Payton is having a direct impact on Brees and the Saints this season. Just based on the potential consequences of doing so, it's simply not worth the risk.


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