Payton dismisses rumours, will return to Saints

Sean Payton speaks at a news conference. (David Goldman/AP)

METAIRIE, La. — Saints coach Sean Payton smiled often and answered questions for a full hour while Saints owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis looked on from a few feet away.

More introspective, laid back and talkative than usual, Payton appeared refreshed and eager to begin a second decade in New Orleans.

Seeking to end speculation that he could be on the move after consecutive 7-9 seasons, Payton asserted on Wednesday that he doesn’t envision himself "ever coaching for any other clubs."

"I know it appeared there was a looming decision, but I think this is really me saying again … here I am and nothing’s changing and I plan on finishing my career here," Payton said. "I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me."

Payton does not have an extension — at least, not yet. He said his contract, which runs for two more seasons and pays him about $8 million annually, remains unchanged for now.

"I’m sure at the right time, all those things will take care of themselves," Payton said.

Payton did not deny that he and Loomis have had disagreements.

"We each like to win an argument, but I think it’s important in the discussions, when we’re going through things, that we both have the ability to look at what’s best," Payton said.

"That’s what’s given us a chance at functional success. That’s what’s missing, quite honestly, in a lot of these organizations that spin the wheels."

Payton began his first and only NFL head coaching job with the Saints in 2006, the season after the team had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Since then, he has gone 87-57 in the regular season with five playoff appearances and one Super Bowl title in the 2009 season.

His playoff record is 6-4. Payton’s record excludes the 2012 season, when he was suspended in connection with the NFL’s bounty investigation.

The coach said he understood the speculation about him leaving New Orleans, given that he has been with the Saints for a decade and that coaching vacancies were opening on other clubs as the season wound down.

But Payton stressed, "I knew in my heart of hearts that was not going to be something that came to fruition.

"There will be a time where they don’t want you back, and that’s OK. … One by one, that train stops for all of us," Payton continued, then added a line he learned from his mentor, former Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells. "We’re better for having ridden (the figurative train), then never having been on at all."

Payton also made a point of expressing how his affection for living in New Orleans has grown as he watched the city recover from the devastation Katrina left behind. He discussed how the Saints represented "a lot more than football" when he arrived.

"There is something unique and different," Payton said, referring even to local fine dining customs, such as when a team of waiters co-ordinate placement of entrees before each diner at a table at the same moment. "It grows on you and it is home. … I would struggle not living here."

The Saints never indicated an interest in letting Payton go, but Loomis had seldom made himself available to comment publicly on the matter.

One thing no one questioned was Payton’s ability to coach offence. Even this season, the Saints ranked second in the NFL in yards per game, and first in passing.

With Drew Brees as his quarterback, the offence Payton designed has ranked first in the NFL in five of the nine seasons he has coached, never ranking lower than sixth. Brees has one season left on his contract, and because of restructuring it could cost about $30 million against the salary cap. But that figure could be reduced through an extension, and it sounded as if Payton sees Brees, who turns 37 this month, as his QB for the foreseeable future.

"He played outstanding this season," Payton said, noting that he texted Brees minutes before his news conference. "I’m proud of how he’s playing and how he’s working. It’s easy for me not to look at a number with regards to age when you’re evaluating someone like that, to really just look at what you’re seeing.

"So my hair’s gotten a little greyer and he’s lost some of his, but that’s about all that’s changed."

However, the Saints have often ranked near the bottom of the NFL defensively during Payton’s tenure. Current defensive co-ordinator Dennis Allen is Payton’s fifth in that post. Allen was given the title in midseason after Rob Ryan was fired.

Payton said he hadn’t finished meeting with assistants and solidifying his staff for next season, but said there’s a "good chance" Allen will remain defensive co-ordinator in 2016.

"He did a great job," Payton said. "He was real good coming in, in a tough position. I thought he was organized, detailed."

Notes: The Saints have never been on HBO’s training camp documentary, "Hard Knocks," and Payton has said he’d prefer not to be part of that. However, NFL rules state that teams which miss the playoffs two straight years could be compelled to participate, and Payton was asked if he was excited about that prospect. "That’s a great question," Payton said. "If that were to happen, I’d put my happy face on." He then joked that maybe HBO would pay the Saints’ bill at the luxury Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, where they plan to hold training camp for a third straight year next summer.