The Head Saint is currently Sean Payton, and hopefully will be for a long time.
We all know the story; first year head coach takes his team to the NFC Championship Game, named NFL Coach of the Year, then struggles for the next two seasons to one game under .500.
It would be easy for any and all football fans to look at the career track record and say it's a one—year fluke. The genie scooped all the possible magic he could into his bottle and took the Saints for a magic carpet ride in '06.
In some ways this is true. The 2006 Saints were not nearly as talented as the 2007 or 2008 editions. Drew Brees put up bigger numbers in the past two seasons, and the offense was more explosive.
Of course, the defense struggled mightily the past two seasons. All 6.3 billion people on this planet probably know that.
Now, before I state why I think Sean Payton is a great coach, I want to start by admitting some of his flaws, on his behalf. He gave me permission.
- He doesn't stay committed to the running game.
- He challenges too many plays that he has seemingly no chance of winning.
- He is so involved with the offense that the defense gets less attention.
And now my counter-argument on those points, and a whole lot more:
Sean Payton had a defense that wasn't very good, meaning the team was playing from behind quite a bit. When you're behind, the best chance to catch up is to throw the football, especially given that opposing defenses will generally play soft coverages and give up easy chunks of yardage.
And oh yeah, Drew Brees is the kind of quarterback who wins football games. If I was Payton I'd put the ball in his hands as well.
As for the challenging too many calls—It completely fits in with his philosophy that he's going to be aggressive and try to make things happen. I personally would rather have a coach who is overly aggressive and trying to help my team than one who is too careful and not willing to take chances, which leads me to the final common grief...
No defense. Sean Payton has always been an offensive coach. That is what he knows, and he does a tremendous job of putting together offenses. He realizes the defense needs to improve, and the team went out and tried to get the right pieces to make sure that happens.
Gregg Williams in many ways is the jelly to Payton's peanut butter. In other words, the two have very similar philosophies, which revolve around attacking the opponent. Make the opponent guess, and then bam, crush 'em.
I know some people want to look at Payton's overaggressiveness on some third and fourth down calls the past two seasons. I agree, those plays in question were probably bad calls. But you know what I love? That is who Sean Payton is. He makes those calls with conviction.
He calls plays that he thinks will work, and doesn't apologize. He may admit he is wrong, as he has done, but he'll still make those calls the next game or the next series even. Some people call this stubbornness. I call this conviction. If you believe in something, you stand up for your belief and make it work.
Let's not forget Payton knows he needs to run the football more to be the team New Orleans wants and expects, but he is going to do what he believes will win a given football game. Sean Payton has made some changes because he believes these changes will help make the Saints a better football team.
That's the other thing, everything is about winning with Sean Payton. Some think all he cares about is putting up large amounts of points on the scoreboard. The truth is that Payton is as competitive as any coach you will ever find. All he wants to do is...all he wants to do is...all he wants to do is WIN!
Look at his demeanor on the sidelines during a game. The guy is pumping his fist, yelling at referees, and yelling at his own players. He gives each game everything he has.
Most coaches look like they've walked into a morgue on game day. Not Payton, this is a good 'ole fist—fight, and he'll knock you out.
You may not agree with every call or decision Sean Payton makes, but you have to be impressed with the passion he consistently exudes. His personality is uncharacteristic of today's NFL Head Coach. Well, that fits perfectly with his philosophies on football.
The guy is some weird kind of blend between new school and old school. And he makes it work fantastically. He is a gem among coaches, because he is original.
The 2009 season is a new one, and will offer some new challenges. Let's hope, though, that Sean Payton doesn't change too much.