Following his NFL retirement announcement, we look back at Saints' head coach Sean Payton's career with some of the best photos from his time in New Orleans.
Yes, he gave an opposing Atlanta Falcons player the "choke" sign and, yes, he mocked Minnesota Vikings fans with the "Skol" clap and, yes, the dial on his Petty Meter fluctuated between Tabasco and nuclear.
And, yes, the Saints and New Orleans are the better for all of it because Sean Payton was exactly what the Saints and New Orleans needed, precisely when they needed it.
Granted, neither side knew that when Payton was hired as head coach of the Saints on Jan. 18, 2006. He was a first-time coach taking over a team that was coming off its third straight non-winning season and had bottomed out at 3-13 in 2005, when it was forced to evacuate due to Hurricane Katrina and was unable to play a game in New Orleans due to lingering damage and cleanup associated with Katrina.
There wasn't an off the chart level of feel-good-ness about the whole thing, with the Gulf South region – and the New Orleans metro area, in particular – just trying to reassemble the life it had prior to the hurricane, one that included rooftops that weren't blue and operating electricity and regular garbage pickup.
Payton's addition was a business decision fueled by the need for change.
But we learned that one of the first rules Payton instituted among his coaching staff was that no one could say the word "Katrina," because that wouldn't be the excuse used for failure. And that became a theme around which his tenure was built, a "no one cares about your problems and some people are happy that you have them" mantra that well served a franchise that encountered more than a few distractions.
What Payton was throughout his tenure as coach of the Saints, a tenure that ended when he decided to step away Tuesday, Jan. 25, was this: He was in touch with what his teams needed. And while compiling a 152-89 regular-season record that was 161-97 overall when the playoff wins, including Super Bowl XLIV, are included, he was confident enough to see it through to victory more often than not.
And what he helped give New Orleans was much more than a needed distraction as the city and region regained its footing following Katrina.
It was the no-backing-down attitude, the sometimes in-your-face fury and the always I-got-this or I'll-figure-it-out persona that the team and city badly needed. It was the smile or, perhaps better, the smirk – easy to see why his mentor and idol, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, nicknamed him "Dennis," as in Dennis The Menace – that said he knew something the rest of us didn't.
He wasn't always right. Not a single one of us is.
But the team and city – equal parts underdogs and forgotten-abouts and struggling for survival when Payton was hired – needed the swagger and attitude and confidence that he provided and exuded.
They didn't need a hero; plenty of good men and women around the region provided aid, assistance and leadership that was more significant and impactful to life than winning football games. Payton himself acknowledged the literal lifesaving and life-preserving actions performed by first responders.
But his was a face of defiance. His was an attitude of, Why Not Here? Why Not This Franchise? Why Not?
Of course, he needed the sync of outstanding ownership and a general manager who saw and embraced his vision, and he got that – multiplied by a couple hundred thousand – in New Orleans. Owners Tom and Gayle Benson, and Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis helped provide the canvass for Payton's art.
But the coach dripped with the "juice" that he always referred to certain players as having.
He wore Jordans. He battle rapped. He fired bazooka shots on social media. He unleashed subtle digs. He rarely skipped a chance for some get-back.
He loved his players. They loved him back.
He loved the city. It loved him back.
He knew the assignment and he provided exactly what was needed, when it was needed. The franchise and city are better off for it, and now that I think about it, Payton is, too.
On January 25, 2022, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton announced he was stepping down from his role after 16 seasons.