There’s too much movement for it to not happen.
But it’s a little different, maybe a little more prideful, when it’s days like Sunday, when the head coach of the New Orleans Saints (5-1) sends his team out to play Buffalo (3-4) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Bills Coach Doug Marrone was a member of Payton’s first NFL staff – the originals in 2006, when it was more difficult to lure coaches to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the franchise wasn’t a Super Bowl contender, and things were a lot more unsettled than settled.
Oakland Coach Dennis Allen also was a member of that staff; he was secondary coach from 2006-10. They’re two members of a Payton coaching tree that’s expanding.
“That initial staff, a lot of those guys came with promotions, we weren’t winning many jump balls, if you will, in the hiring process,” Payton said. “We had a handful of attempts at hiring guys. Doug was someone that I had met before, and he was still under contract with the (New York) Jets, and finally was able to get out of his contract.
“I had a chance to interview him and felt really, really comfortable with his expertise and his ability to teach. That initial staff was pretty special and he is someone that I’ve stayed in close touch with throughout the years when he went to Syracuse and now to Buffalo. He is doing a good job there.”
The fondness is apparent when Payton speaks of Marrone, the Saints’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 2006-08. And Payton said it was obvious that Marrone, who left the staff to be the head coach at his alma mater, Syracuse, would be a head coach.
“He was responsible for a complete rebuild of our offensive line,” Payton said. “From the first year we got here in ’06 to the year before in ’05, there were a lot of changes.
“He helped us get Jonathan Goodwin here, who became our center and is now with San Francisco. He was very involved in our talent evaluation. Again, he was very thorough and is a great worker and I think that I was very fortunate as a first-time head coach to be in a position to hire a lot of good, young coaches.”
Marrone departed the year before the Saints won the Super Bowl. But his influence was obvious.
“I hope he knows this, but he was a big part of that,” quarterback
“(Right guard) Carl Nicks, (left tackle Jermon) Bushrod as well as Goody (Goodwin), (right tackle) Jon Stinchcomb, (tackle Zach) Strief – all the guys that were a part of that front that year, he helped develop. So even though he wasn’t actively here, he was a part of that.”
Marrone warmly recalled his seasons in New Orleans, the first of which saw the Saints advance to the NFC championship game.
The Saints went 25-23 in those three seasons. At Syracuse, the Orangemen went 25-25 in his four seasons, with two bowl victories.
Marrone said that working for Payton, and with the Saints, helped prepare him for his current job.
“I was very fortunate,” he said. “Saints owner Tom) Mr. Benson was great. I was very fortunate to be around people that I felt that I could communicate with. Sean and (Saints general manager) Mickey (Loomis) weren’t only people that I worked for, but they were also good friends.
“A lot of who I am today is from that experience that I had down there – with them, with the other coaches, with everyone.
“Sean was always a great communicator, he will always be a great communicator with the players and the staff and just how he handled everything. Same with Mickey, just his honesty – looking back that’s what I take away the most.
“Maybe that’s because I was born and raised in the Bronx, I didn’t have very good skills in doing that – just the honesty and the straight-forwardness. There’s really so many things that if you did try to pin-point a couple things, it really probably wouldn’t serve justice to how fortunate I’ve been to be around them. Having gone down there post-Katrina and having really been a part of something that special is always going to be a special part in my life and in my family’s life.
“What everyone did and the resiliency of the people to build back a region was just an unbelievable, incredible experience. I was fortunate enough to be there.”
Sunday, he’ll be on the sideline across from Payton, leading a team against him for the first time in the NFL.
It won’t be the first time Payton has opposed someone he has coached with. But likely, it’ll be one of the most special times.