(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Sean Payton enters his fourth year as head coach of the New Orleans Saints and in his brief time with the club already ranks among the most successful head coaches in franchise history.
He is the only coach to lead the Saints to an NFC Championship, was a unanimous choice for 2006 NFL Coach of the Year, has been the architect of an offense that has rewritten the club’s record books, and since his arrival has instilled a winning culture within the organization.
In his opening season, the club jumped out to a 3-0 record–a first in team history–and clinched the NFC South title before the regular season ended.
That season the Saints also ranked first in the league in offense for the first time in club history.
The offense averaged 391.5 yards per contest, posted 330 first downs and 6,264 net yards and tied a team mark by scoring 49 touchdowns. New Orleans rushed for 1,761 yards and 19 TDs and was the only team with four players with over 650 receiving yards.
When his opening season as head coach came to a close, Payton was voted the Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America, The Sporting News and the Maxwell Club.
The Saints’ offense has thrived with Payton handling the play-calling. In 2007, the Saints set a team record with an NFC-high 346 first downs and ranked fourth in the league with 5,780 total yards.
The Saints scored 47 touchdowns–the third-most in team history–gave up a league-low 16 sacks and also led the NFL in scoring percentage (72.0) in the red zone.
In 2008 the Saints offense found success yet again under Payton's playcalling by ranking first in points per game, total points, yards per game, yards per play, passing yards, touchdowns, first downs, plays of 20+ yards, and plays of 40+ yards.
Payton has had particular success tutoring quarterbacks since arriving in the NFL. Since 2000, every passer under Payton’s guidance has thrown for over 3,000 yards.
The three starting quarterbacks he worked with in Dallas – Drew Bledsoe in 2005, Vinny Testaverde in 2004 and Quincy Carter in 2003 – all surpassed the milestone.
Payton came to Dallas after four years with the New York Giants, the last three as offensive coordinator. Behind Kerry Collins' club record 4,073 passing yards, the Giants finished 2002 as the NFL’s sixth ranked offense, the team’s highest ranking since 1985.
Payton solidified his reputation as one of the game’s top offensive minds in 2000. In his first season as coordinator, the Giants captured the NFC title and went to Super Bowl XXXV.
New York scored 328 points–the club’s highest total since 1990–finished 13th in the NFL in offense and jumped from 24th to 11th in rushing.
Payton was first assigned play-calling duties prior to a game against the Jets on Dec. 5, 1999. The Giants responded by scoring 41 points and gaining 490 yards–both season-highs–and he retained that assignment over the final five games.
Appointed the offensive coordinator the following season, over the next three years the Giants passing attack continually improved, ranking 13th in the NFL in 2000, tied for eighth in 2001 and sixth in 2002. In the decade prior to Payton’s arrival, the Giants hadn’t ranked above 20th.
Payton joined the Giants as quarterbacks coach on Feb. 3, 1999. Prior to joining the Giants, he spent 1997 and 1998 as Philadelphia’s quarterbacks coach.
Payton is unquestionably one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. In the short time he has been the Saints head coach, he has established an identity for a team that has been in desperate need of one for a long time.
He makes all the calls on offense but rarely dabbles in the defensive schemes. After leaving Gary Gibbs to his own devices, Payton had to watch his friend and former defensive coordinator hit the road after consecutive mediocre showings.
But Payton's hands-off defensive approach shouldn't scare too many Saints fans. With new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in town, the defense is in good hands.
Stats and information courtesy of: neworleanssaints.com & nfl.com