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Sean Payton: 'I'm feeling a lot better'

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Interview with WWL Radio
Wednesday, March 25, 2020

How are you feeling today?
"I'm doing well. I was cleared yesterday. It's been quite a process and you spend a lot of time trying to learn as much as you can about it. We're certainly seeing it on the news 24/7. Basically, a weekend ago, it wasn't until Sunday night – so not this past Sunday but the Sunday before, is when I first began to feel some flu-like symptoms. You know, where you get kind of the chills. And then Monday morning, they were certainly a little bit more significant. I had a low grade fever, but the chills were back and that's when I had my test on Monday. And basically quarantined at that point at the house. I didn't get the test results back for quite a bit. Well, it was Thursday PM that confirmed it. But when you're quarantined, when you're basically at home with the symptoms that I had, and a number of people, 85-90 percent of the people will have a mild version of this and recover fully. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) basically puts out, 'You have to be prior to getting cleared, three days fever free. Which for me has been more like eight or nine days fever free. And then also a week from when you first felt symptoms, and I'm closer to 10 days now. Look, I've been fortunate. You stay inside like everyone's doing and you find ways to pass time. We had a competition committee meeting the other day on teleconference. But I'm feeling a lot better, and unfortunately my appetite didn't dissipate at all during that time. You watch a lot of Netflix. Then you go onto Twitter and see that everyone else is watching the same shows. That's basically been the extent of it. Now today is what, Wednesday? So it's been 10 days."

Sean, are we all kind of guilty of this era of invincibility in this COVID-19 virus has proven that you're certainly not invincible? Does that make sense?
"Yeah. Listen, it makes complete sense. And look, we try asking nicely, and we try saying, 'Hey look, this is the deal.' And then you still see behavior that makes you upset. Just picture it as everyone's got a hand grenade on them. How about that? Alright, so stay away from everybody. The state has issued – our state right now, and a lot of it has to do with Mardi Gras, but our state right now, the numbers aren't good. In our city, the numbers are exponent- I mean its double and tripling. So you get to where you need to get to, and pay attention to every single detail they are talking about. Because when you look at the numbers and you look at what's happened, when two goes to six, then 28 then the next thing you know you're at 500, it just tells you how contagious this is. Look, a week and a half ago when I first felt these symptoms, my Twitter blows up, 'Well what is he doing at the race-.' Hey, if I knew I had this, I wouldn't have been at the racetrack two weeks ago. And the racetrack was closed. I was there in a small ownership group. Ah then so, 'He got a test on Monday without symptoms.' I had symptoms. I wasn't going to use a test if I didn't have symptoms. So just pay attention to what's been said. I don't know that half the people understand the curve theory. The bottom line is, if we get a bump that's higher than we want, then we can't handle the patients in the hospitals with the high volume. So if we can push that down and push it out, and extend it, and flatten it over a period of time, our hospitals and health care workers, doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, everyone that's involved in keeping these people alive and healthy can do their jobs. But if we let that thing get higher than it's supposed to, New York's pressed for time right now. And they're pressed for facilities. So that's what the whole bump means. It doesn't necessarily mean make it go away, it just means push it out over a period of time where we can kind of handle it. As opposed to a sharp increase that exceeds – look it's no different than water getting over the levees."

Coach, this is a process that I think people have a hard time dealing with because they don't see the end in sight. Does that make sense? I think that's what makes people nervous.
"Yeah. It's invisible. And we tend to pay attention to how we feel. And when we feel OK and we don't see anything. So the thing that's troubling is that it's so contagious, that it's going to find the people that aren't healthy enough to defend themselves against it. You and I talked about your father, our parents, our aunts and uncles those people. Anybody that has an existing or pre-existing condition. And you don't have to be in your 80s to have one of those. Diabetic, heart condition, anybody that has pre-existing conditions now becomes a greater risk, obviously, we've seen younger people. The reason it applies to everybody, is because everybody can get it. There have been, I'm sure, a great deal of people that have had it and didn't know they had it. They were healthy enough. Maybe it might have been a month and a half ago. They thought they had the flu and no one was talking about this and it went away. There are three groups of people really. The first group are those who have not had it, the second group are those that currently have it, and the last group which I'm in is the group that had it. That's a good group to be in right now, because they don't think you can get it again and certainly you can't give it. So man, we just have to pay attention to what they're asking us to do. In the meantime we have to trust our government officials. They've got to be on point. But I agree with you. Here's the thing though, this city is tough, and resilient, and we're smart. We've been through, I mean we've been through so much. Between the Shell Oil, multiple hurricanes since I've been here post-Katrina. But we don't have to be just tough now, we've got to be a little smart too."

Sometimes people get delirious overboard and you're watching all negative news. We would always escape to sports and you see the cancellations of major sporting events. The one thing that I've been thankful for because it's a little bit of an escape is NFL free agency. What is your take on that? It seems like teams have been able to get that done from a free agency standpoint as far as the time constraints. Also I saw where Mickey Loomis was talking about how challenging it is to all the teams with the draft. What if you had one round every day?
"Listen, let's start with the draft first. How we have it is going to be network driven. In other words, those are the experts relative to the ratings. You know it's a televised event. I think every year we've seen it grow and grow. This year of course is going to be entirely different. They'll still be able to televise the event, but it won't be the same type of event. I think the bigger question is when we have it. I would agree with Mickey in light of everything that's taken place. And look, they're saying April is going to be one of the tougher months with this virus. And so there has to be some sensitivity relative to just the simple process of physicals when you've got the head of the NFL trainers saying, 'Hey, right now we've got bigger priorities relative to the equipment and the medical. We might be calling on a lot of these medical people that we rely on on a daily basis to do, oh, all the tests that take place when they come in.' And so no one's talking about cancel in it. It's always the end of April. It's always the week of that Zurich golf tournament, which I know has been postponed. So I think I wouldn't be surprised if it just gets pushed into May a little bit and just to allow, uh, and look, it's not so every club can get the, the idea of video conferencing and all of that works. But man, there's a ton of ton of board stuff that takes place. And I think a lot of these kids haven't had their workouts or, you know, in other words, it's not just a fantasy draft. There's a lot of, a lot of things that go into it. And I also think there's a sensitivity as to what's going on and what's the priority. Now I recognize it's also an escape and it's, and it's welcomed. So I wouldn't be surprised to see it pushed back a little bit. I know that right now they're sticking with the current date. But we'll see. We can't control that. Now. Free agency on the other hand was a little bit, a little bit easier to do. Now if you were that player that wanted to fly in, visit with the realtor, visit with the coach, and see the city with your wife, that wasn't really going to be the year for you this year. You know, most of these guys at the combine begin that process with their agents talking to teams. There's an official period of time within the rules where you can begin in earnest talking with the players representatives, and then that Wednesday comes where you can begin to officially sign and agree to terms. So I think that went fairly smooth. Um, and I think it did provide a break from, you know, the CNN or Fox News or whatever it is you're watching at home that's constantly giving the updates. And I understand the significance of that."

Now, you know, coach, when you look at obviously, uh, I'm gonna wait and see what's going to come about. But I like the approach that we're taking as far as a free agency and it looks like Jared Cook comes on board. It seems like we really hit it the last three seasons in particular. But to me it's a slam dunk. Malcolm Jenkins, I think the leadership he's going to provide. And I know you commented, you don't want to let him get out of the building in the first place, but now he's back in the fold. And then Emmanuel Sanders I mean, it looks like a deep wide receiver class in college football this year. But, I'm an Emmanuel Sanders fan. It just seems like right now that Who Dat Nation has to be optimistic that the Saints are right there as Super Bowl opportunity considering we haven't even had the draft yet, but the addition of Malcolm Jenkins and Emmanuel Sanders.
"Yeah, look and make no mistake about it being able to secure David Onyemata and Andrus Peat, because when you start with free agency, Justin Hardee, you look, you look at your own team, you don't realize it, but when you start the process, you remove those magnets from the board and then it, Brees, he's not on the board. So all of those are taken into account. And then of course the newer players, you know, they have one thing in common, is they're smart, tough in there and they're driven to win. And I know that with Malcolm and I know that with Emmanuel. And so you're constantly paying attention to the fit in the locker room and their football makeup and, and I think that served us well."

Boy, the NFC South. This is must-see TV. I know I'm chomping at the bit. I mean look at Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, you know, we all trying to get Tom Brady and Drew Brees to the Super Bowl, but now we get them twice in a season. That has to be great for the NFL and obviously the local interest in the NFC South. How competitive.
"Yeah. You know, the one thing that they do such a good job with our league is and those guys back at the league when they're looking at the scheduling and certainly when free agency finishes, the final touches on this schedule that'll be unveiled at some point, I'm sure in April. It's interesting how it just takes on a little bit new flavor, your own division, you know, Cam Newton being at Carolina, there's changes there. Our guy Teddy's (Bridgewater) down the road there now. I made a comment on Twitter, 'congratulations TB.' And the Buccaneer fans got on me because they thought, you know, not Teddy Bridgewater, it's Tom Brady. But it's all good. Those are good football players. Obviously Brady's the best if not of all time. And, so when you, when you put those players in your own division, certainly, the competition goes up and in the pressure each week to win goes up and you know, we'll be ready for the challenge."

Sean, we've talked to a few of the free agents that you guys have added, certainly Malcolm Jenkins as well who's been in New Orleans, but they all pointed to, I'm talking about the new faces. They all pointed to the culture that you guys have established with the Saints. When you hear that, how does that make you feel as a coach, a coach that outside free agents are talking about the culture that you guys have established here?
"Yeah, we'll look like anything else, you've got to pay attention to it almost on a daily basis. And it's hard to develop. It's easy to lose, and yet, it can pay dividends. And we feel like it has for us. And look, it's established to win games. You know, the reliability and consistency and all of that. The attention to details, basically the standard of expectation, the standard on how you want to compete to win championships. And, and I think that it begins to identify certain types of players that fit and it's worked for us. And it's always great to hear. When you get into the process of free agency, you don't know, sometimes you really have no idea what's going to be the driving decision. Sometimes for a player it's region, you know, or maybe proximity to home. Sometimes, most often it's money. But there are some other things that go into it. And look, it's still going on. There's still some good football players. I'm seeing where (Ndamukong) Suh's going to sign back with Tampa?

Yeah.
"So we'll, we'll pay attention to all of that. And I can't stress this enough though. And, and it's great to be talking football right now and yet I'm not at the expense or certainly, it takes a back seat though to what's going on, not only in our country, but in our world. And man, if we can just understand the bump, you know, if somebody can explain that, I'm trying to explain it. If we can just flatten that thing, so that our hospitals can handle a little bit less of a steep slope of patients. Because they're coming now, um, and they're coming in New York, it's doubling, it's tripling and April is going to be tough. It's not going to be any easier. But we all can control that. And so even though you might feel good and you go out, I mean, if you're outside, just keep the space and really pay attention to the law. The law is like, 'Hey, get in.' And if you're traveling, you're traveling to go do something. But we're not invincible. And every one of us certainly can catch this thing. Shoot, we've got politicians, athletes, you name it, they've caught it. Prince Charles caught it today, right? So it doesn't matter if you live in a castle or you live in an apartment."

I think the stability that we had last year, I think it was the perfect formula. You had Drew Brees starting, you had a top notch quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater backing him up, then you had Taysom Hill. Now going forward, I want to utilize Taysom Hill maybe twice as much then maybe have that veteran backup for Drew Brees to be able to do the same thing we did last year and maybe give, Taysom Hill more opportunities but not necessarily as their true number two. Does that make sense or what?
"Well, yeah, I would say this though. Taysom's earned this opportunity to be our No. 2. But he's also earned the opportunity to play and help us win football games as a one. And what I mean by that, whether you call him a receiver, a tight end, a specialist, also a quarterback. Yeah, he's going to play. He's too good a football player. He's one of our better football players. And because of that, more than likely you need a third quarterback dressed on the sidelines because on any given play, Taysom can come over to the sideline and his, his right thumb or finger can be pointing East and West. And if that happens, you know, then you don't have a backup quarterback. But, I would say coming into the season, you know, he's going to be our second string quarterback and obviously play a number of snaps, not only at quarterback but at other positions. But I think there'll be another player that we'll have to look closely at that'll be up on game days, because of what we want to do with Taysom, if that makes sense."

It certainly does. Coach. Once again, glad you're in good health and thank you for joining us. We certainly appreciate it.
"Yep. Be safe and I appreciate the time on here. You guys are doing a good job."

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