Sean Payton's intent again was put to bed Wednesday. Now, maybe New Orleans Saints fans will rest easier.
"I said this before, and I understand the interest and certainly the skepticism, if you will, but this is where I plan on coaching," he said at a midday news conference that stretched beyond an hour. "I don't envision myself ever coaching for any other club.
"I've said this before and I can't say this enough, in just having met with (team owner) Mr. (Tom) Benson and his wife, Gayle, I've been blessed. We all arrive at different times for different reasons. It doesn't seem like 10 years. I'm just as excited (as in his first news conference after being named head coach in 2006), and to some degree just as nervous, but looking forward to where we're going.
"And I don't take for granted one minute the leadership that sits over me and has confidence in me to be a part of a team, and a part of an organization and a structure. That relationship has been as strong as ever.
"I would also say that, for one minute, I never take for granted our fan base and how supportive they've been. Someone said this to me when I moved here in '06, 'There's something about this city.' You hear that initially and there was a lot back then that was uniquely different because of post-Katrina. But there is something unique and different. I can't put my finger on it. And yet, it grows on you and it is home."
It remains home to the winningest coach in franchise history (93-61, including playoffs), owner of six of the seven playoff victories in franchise history, and leader of the lone Super Bowl winner the Saints have had (XLIV, 2009 season).
It remains home despite rampant speculation about Payton's future. He was linked to every real or imagined NFL coaching vacancy on the final Sunday of the regular season, despite never publicly having wavered from his stance that he wanted to coach the Saints.
"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," he said. "I think (right tackle) Zach Strief said it best last week: I'll be here as long as they'll have me."
Nothing that happened Wednesday at the Saints' training facility suggested that Benson, General Manager Mickey Loomis or President Dennis Lauscha want otherwise.
And that echoed the informal poll taken in the locker room Monday, whether the question was posed to record-setting quarterback Drew Brees, who joined the team as an unrestricted free agent in Payton's first season, or left tackle Terron Armstead, a third-year pro who was a third-round draft pick.
True, the Saints haven't reach the playoffs the last two seasons, their twin 7-9 marks being the first consecutive losing seasons under Payton. But Payton and Loomis oversaw a change in locker room culture from this time last year, and put together a solid draft class.
"At this time a year ago, football wasn't the only issue," he said. "We had to get that culture back, and it was the first year it flipped."
Offensively, the Saints were the Saints: they led the league in passing (310.6 yards per game) and were second in total offense (403.8), and never have finished lower than sixth in total offense under Payton.
Defense was a struggle. New Orleans finished next-to-last in yards allowed (413.8) and last in points allowed (29.8). But Payton said he saw improvement under new coordinator Dennis Allen, who was tabbed to replace Rob Ryan after 10 games into the season. The Saints finished the season by allowing just 17 points on the road against Atlanta, and shutting out the Falcons in the second half of a 20-17 victory. And Payton said he envisioned Allen returning next season in the role of defensive coordinator.
"I thought he was real good coming in a tough position," Payton said. "I thought he was organized, detailed. There are a few pieces that we have to help him with that can help our team and I think being in charge of it for the whole course of the offseason (will help), but there are a lot of good things that he did."
However good was the job Allen did, it wasn't any better than the one Payton performed Wednesday.
Really, having already been linked to every opening prior to Black Monday, he almost was forced to have a news conference to address whispers that grew to loud, booming choruses.
"That can only happen if I sign off on it and I think the cart gets ahead of the horse a little bit, and I understand how that can happen," he said. "I feel like any time there's possibly a report or a link, there's an assumption that it's coming from someone in my camp. And my camp is really small (him and agent Don Yee).
"I've learned maybe not to get as worked up with things that you can't control. This past Monday is not any different than the last few years, and it's always difficult as a coach to see certain peers of yours that are going through some tough times or challenges. I've been there as an assistant. There's so much that goes into it and there's so much passion and there are so many other things that go into it, aside from just the head coach himself – the staff members and all the other people's lives who are affected with it.
"I knew in my heart of hearts, that was not going to be something that came to fruition, and that was something I knew in my heart that I didn't want to come to fruition. And yet, there's a part of what we do that we can't control. There will be a time where they don't want you back anymore, and that's OK. One by one that train stops for all of us. Bill (Parcells) said this once, 'We're better for having ridden than never having been on at all.' So, you appreciate it."
So, the train in New Orleans keeps moving, with the only conductor who has had sustained success. One who understands from where success originates in the NFL.
"The ownership and the stability at the ownership position is vital to having a chance," Payton said. "It doesn't guarantee success but in many cases, it can guarantee failure. I think there's never been a better time in our league to win. And I think being one of those functional organizations gives you an opportunity."
The Saints, under Payton, have had a chance more often than not. When frustration boils among the fan base, it exists because the level of expectation has risen to heights it never had attained prior to Payton's arrival.
A Super Bowl victory, two NFC championship game appearances, five playoff berths and three NFC South Division titles already are on the ledger.
Payton expects more.
"I think there's more moments, there's more wins, there's more playoffs," he said. "I promise you there will be."
No one else similarly has delivered in New Orleans, so no one else's words should make New Orleans rest easier.