The NFL’s coaching carousel will have one more opening.
Sean Payton has informed the New Orleans Saints that he will be stepping away, according to NFL Network and other media reports. This comes just one day after Saints owner Gayle Benson said she hadn’t heard from Payton about his plans for the future.
“We don’t know. You know, who knows?” Benson told Fox 8 NOLA on Monday. “We’ll find out soon enough, I guess. I don’t think any of us know. But he’ll let us know soon enough.”
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The Saints are coming off a difficult season in which they were still in playoff contention until the final week of the season. New Orleans (9-8) lost starting quarterback Jameis Winston to a significant knee injury at the end of October and dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak that forced Payton to shuffle around his players and assistant coaches.
Payton himself tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the team’s victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15.
Payton, 58, was hired in 2006, which had made him the head coach in the NFL with the second-longest tenure (16 years), behind only Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots (22 years).
Payton compiled a 152-89 (.631) record in that span, including a victory against the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 44 after the 2009 season.
Despite being with the team 16 years, Payton coached 15 seasons because he was suspended the entire 2012 season for his role in the infamous bounty scandal in which the NFL found that he tried to cover up a cash bounty system that allegedly targeted key players on opposing teams.
Payton returned the following season and led the Saints to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
He is credited for being the coach who turned around a Saints franchise that had been bogged down in ineptitude. The season before Payton arrived, the Saints went 3-13 and finished last in their division. In Payton’s first season, New Orleans posted a seven-victory improvement and won the NFC South, which earned him the 2006 AP Coach of the Year award.
In the 13 seasons prior to Payton’s arrival, the Saints posted only one double-digit victory season, in 2000. In the 15 seasons Payton coached, New Orleans recorded nine such campaigns.
The Saints ranked in the top five in scoring offenses in the NFL in 10 of Payton’s 15 seasons.
Perhaps his lasting achievement in New Orleans, however, is the success Payton enjoyed in the playoffs. New Orleans, in its 55 years as an NFL franchise, has recorded 10 playoff victories. Payton was the coach for nine of them.
The Saints now become an attractive landing spot for a prospective coach, with a defense that ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring (19.7 points per game allowed) and several dynamic playmakers on offense.