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Sean Payton retires as Saints head coach, ‘I don’t know what’s next’

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 12:50 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2022 at 10:03 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Sean Payton will be stepping away as New Orleans head coach after 16 years.

He finishes with a 152-89 overall record, a Super Bowl XLIV championship, five seasons with more than 12 wins, and was named AP Coach of the Year in 2006. He is the NFL’s second-longest tenured coach with the same team behind the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick.

Payton held a news conference from the Saints facility on Tuesday, Jan. 25. He began by thanking owner Gayle Benson and her late husband, Tom Benson. He gifted Benson with a king cake, saying it was his version of TV character Ted Lasso’s biscuit tradition.

He said Benson told him to spend some time away from the team the past couple of weeks. He vacationed in Mexico before meeting with Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis on Monday.

Sean Payton hugs team owner Gayle Benson following an NFL football press conference announcing...
Sean Payton hugs team owner Gayle Benson following an NFL football press conference announcing his resignation as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Metairie, La. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)(Derick Hingle | AP)

Payton said he doesn’t like the word “retirement” and can’t rule out a return to coaching in the future.

“I don’t like the word retirement,” Payton said. “I still have a vision for doing things in football. And I’ll be honest with you, that might be coaching again at some point. I don’t think it’s this year, I think maybe in the future. That’s not where my heart is right now.”

Payton is under contract with the Saints for three more seasons, and if he’s hired by another NFL team before then, his new team would have to provide compensation to New Orleans.

“I don’t know what’s next and it kind of feels good,” he said.

“Look, I read the reports and I understand — I’ve not spoken to anyone from a media outlet relative to doing television, or radio. Maybe that opportunity arises,” Payton said. “But every time I read something that says he’s in line for this job, I’ll call my agent Don (Yee) and I’ll say ‘Don, did you hear something because I’ve not heard anything?’ That’s OK. I think I’d like to do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it.”

Sean Payton gestures during an NFL football press conference announcing his resignation as head...
Sean Payton gestures during an NFL football press conference announcing his resignation as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Metairie, La. (AP Photo/Derick Hingle)(Derick Hingle | AP)

Payton said he wasn’t burnt out on coaching and in fact enjoyed the challenges of the 2021 season, which not only was the second straight to occur with pandemic-related restrictions and the unpredictable roster instability that came with it, but also began with the club’s displacement to the Dallas area for a month because of Hurricane Ida.

Rather, Payton sounded not unlike the countless people who’ve simply re-evaluated their work-life balance during the pandemic and didn’t want life to pass them by without trying something fresh and new.

“I felt the time was right — for me,” Payton said. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about. ... Not many get to choose their terms. And I looked at it as an opportunity to see my kids more, to travel more, to get in better shape.”

Saints owner Gayle Benson said she and top front office personnel hoped they could persuade Payton to stay — and believed he likely would — until he informed them Tuesday that he was definitely done.

“I was surprised and it really is a bittersweet day,” Benson said. “I feel like he deserves this. ... It’s been a wonderful ride.”

“He’s been the best we’ve ever had,” Benson said following Payton’s briefing.

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Rumors of his departure began over the weekend and gained legs when Benson told Fox 8′s Olivia Vidal “I don’t think any of us know,” if he was going to stay or leave.

Now, the Saints will go on without Coach Payton or quarterback Drew Brees, who retired before the 2021 season, marking the end of an extraordinary era for the entire city of New Orleans.

The Saints made the relatively risky decision to hire Payton as a rookie head coach in their first season back in New Orleans after being displaced from the city by Hurricane Katrina for the entire 2005 season, when they went 3-13 under Jim Haslett.

Payton oversaw an immediate storybook turnaround. The Saints won the NFC South, captured the NFC’s second playoff seed, and advanced to the franchise’s first NFC title game by beating Philadelphia in a divisional-round playoff in a rebuilt Superdome — the site of widespread damage and suffering of stranded evacuees right after Katrina had flooded 80% of New Orleans.

Since then, Payton coached the Saints to the playoffs in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Payton will go down as the winningest coach in Saints history and one of the all-time great offensive minds. Brees went on to set every significant franchise passing record in a high-flying offense designed and called by Payton.

Before Sean Payton took his first head coaching job in New Orleans, the Saints had a grand total of one playoff victory since their founding in 1967.

The standard will be considerably higher for the next head coach in the Big Easy.

New Orleans narrowly missed the playoffs this past season, going 9-8 in a season marred with injury and COVID protocols and its first campaign since Brees retired.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen stepped in as acting head coach when Payton tested positive for COVID-19. The Saints won 9-0 at Tampa Bay. Allen, a former head coach with the Oakland Raiders, has made no secret of his desire to be in charge again.

Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen peers upward during a game in the Superdome
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen peers upward during a game in the Superdome(Mark Lagrange | Mark LaGrange)

Now there’s an opening on the very team that employs him.

“We’re going to look in-house and outside also,” Benson said. “We’re going to make a thorough search and choose the right person. ... We’re going to do a great job in choosing another person that’s going to be able to lead us the way Sean did.”

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