New Orleans Saints assistant coach Zach Strief appeared on the Saints Podcast presented by SeatGeek this week to talk about his move from broadcasting to the Saints coaching staff. Below is a transcript of his interview with John DeShazier.
Well, welcome today to the New Orleans Saints podcast. I'm John, I'm senior writer for NewOrleansSaints.com. I know I have to give a little title, so everybody won't think I just snuck in the room while Caroline (Gonzalez) was away. My capable co-host is off. So it's just me flying the mothership by myself. And today we've got Saints assistant coach Zach Strief. OK. First thing, my first question is what the hell, man? How you, how did you not tell us this was coming?
Well, I would say first of all, it's good to talk to you, John. The biggest reason is because I didn't know it was coming. You know, this was, this kind of came on fairly quickly. It certainly wasn't something that had had been planned or thought of even really you know, got into the off season and, and talk to Sean (Payton) a couple of times just about, you know, life. It wasn't, it was not necessarily about you know, coming back and he kind of made a comment to me you know, about, about coaching and I kind of blew it off and I got off the phone and my wife said, you know, what did Sean say? And I, you know, just, we talked about, I don't even remember what it was. I said, and then at the end he hit me with the, when are you, when are you going to come coach, you know, comment? And, and she goes, well, what'd you say? And I said, I told him no. And she goes, you just, that seems weird. Like you, you don't have any interest in it. And it kind of started a conversation. And you know, and I think that conversation over time led to the acceptance more than anything of just how big of an opportunity it really was and, and how much I miss being, you know, in the building. And, and I think it's hard for players to make the decision, to go back to coaching for a lot of reasons. The biggest of which as you watch those guys work and grind and you see them and how hard they work at it and you go, I don't wanna have to do that. That looks hard. Right. And I mean, I think that's kind of your mentality as a player. And you know, and yet you, except eventually, you know what, it's, it's what I really love. And as great as my role was at WWL and as much as I loved doing what I was doing, cause I genuinely loved doing it. You know, I felt like this was going to be more fulfilling to me and, and decided to make the dive in. So I wasn't hiding it from you, John. It, wasn't sitting there all year long as we're sitting in airports, flying around the country, going to watch games. It kind of came on me pretty quick and before I knew it, I'm getting home for my first day and my wife is going, I can't believe this is happening. So yeah.
Well, you know, now first let me back track a little bit. I got to tell the three people who don't know Zach Strief was the radio play-by-play guy for WWL radio, the flagship station of the New Orleans Saints. So he was the voice of the Saints for the last three years. I must say that you guys (Zach and analyst Deuce McAllister) are, are extremely knowledgeable about the game. So I would think this would be a natural segue for you to go into, but you had never considered going into coach.
No. And again, I think as a player, you, you talk yourself out of it and I think that's a lot more common. And you know, when I really finally came and sat down with Sean and talked about it seriously, it was like, yeah, it takes people time, you know, to get away from it, especially if there's other options, right. And and I think players universally have this desire to prove or to to show, you know, I can do more than football and, you know, I understand I had that mentality and I understand that mentality, but I also think that you come to a point where you accept, or at least I did that, Hey, it's OK to be best at football. Right. Like that's all right. It's a, it's a real profession, you know? And and, and everybody, John, you know, they want to do what they're good at, right. If you walk into a gym, you know, you very rarely see a guy my size just like, you know, slugging away on the treadmill for two hours. Right. If you're a good bench presser, you like to bench press, if you're a runner you like to run. I mean, and so, you know, at this point, you know, I think I realized and accepted, Hey, I think that's probably, you know, my, my skill set and where I could benefit the most and, and had a strong desire to come back and be in the building and be a part of the Saints organization again, and was really just fortunate to have, you know, been given the opportunity to step into the role that I have.
Now. It sounds like your wonderful wife was extremely supportive here. Now, was this, you know, or is this just a way for her to get you out of the house more because, you know, I know my wife doesn't necessarily mind all the time when I'm not home because I'd get in the way sometimes, you know, so what was the conversation like at home? It seems like she was very supportive of this.
My wife is substantially smarter than I am. And I think she saw the reality of the opportunity maybe even faster than I had. And, and she has been supportive. And at the end of the day, you know, this is a family decision because this, this profession affects your entire family. You know, you ask a lot of your family, this is not a job where it's like, Hey, I'm going to take off early today, you know, on Thursday. And, you know, Charlotte had a doctor's appointment. So I got to pick up my kid. That's not really how this one works. You know, you're really locked in. And and so it's a sacrifice for everybody in the family at the same time. And I did a lot of talking with former coaches and guys who I've really respected and, you know, more than anything guys, whose families I've really come to respect, you know, coaches who have really close tight-knit families in spite of the hours and the time they're gone and, and talk to those people about how, you know, they kind of see this profession affecting that side of their life. And, you know, and I, it's interesting, because there's obviously things that make there's struggles in this job as it pertains to your family. And then there's also things about this that I think makes families closer and tighter. And as my wife and I kind of weighed and measured the pros and cons, I think what we came away with was it was a, it was a great opportunity for everybody in our family. You know, and, and, you know, obviously for us and what we're able to provide for our kids, but also the environment that we're going to get to raise our children in being surrounded by, you know, what are ultimately world-class people. And John, you know this from being in the building, it's, it's a special place. They bring in special people. And I want my kids exposed to that. I want my sons to see the types of players that the Saints organization goes and brings into this building. I want them to be around those guys. And I think ultimately, this place is filled with great role models that I'm excited to get to, you know, bring my kids up around.
Are you, you are a presence around the facility, will it be a little bit odd, I guess, to now coach some of the guys or, or is it kind of almost the same because you've been there and you've been a mentor and you've been a guy who's been in the locker room. And so it, again, it almost seems like a natural progression.
I think I'm probably in a better than normal situation walking back in coach coaching your teammates. Right. because it was a big part of my role here. My last few years was working with younger guys. And so the guys who I played with Terron (Armstead), you know, Andrus (Peat) you know, those guys and really even early in Eric's (McCoy) career here, Ryan (Ramczyk), you know, those guys who I played with or was still active, you know, while they were around, that was part of my role, you know, and I did, I did help guys. It was something I enjoyed doing at the same time. It is a little bit different now. Right. And ultimately those guys know I have a ton of respect for what they're doing. They know that I'm there to help. I don't have any desire to do anything, but try to make each one them better. And I think what's probably even an even bigger dynamic shift. John is that now I'm a coach with my own coaches and that's an interesting, and even, maybe even more so, because that role is very, very different, you know? And I I'd say this is just my second week here and my appreciation for what the staff does on a day-to-day basis, week-to-week, year-to-year has grown tremendously just like three days into working. I was like, man, I'm such a jerk because how many times did I walk in and look at the game plan and say, I don't, why, why are we doing this? And then it's like, Oh, well, don't worry about it. We just talked about adding that one play for four hours last night. Right. And you're like, there's so much that goes into it. And they work so hard. And the amount of of knowledge in that space up with the coaches' office is just so immense. And so, you know, it's, it's really about taking a backseat and, and having a lot of humility and kind of walking in hat in hand, trying to learn and, and you know, absorbing as much of their information as you can. And, and for me, just kind of picking the spots where maybe I can add a perspective that hasn't previously been in the room. So that's, that's probably an even bigger dynamic shift than it will be with the actual players.
Now you've maintained the relationship with Coach Peyton, obviously. Now, do you get to yell at him now?
No, absolutely not in my understanding now, again, we're, you know, we're in an off season mode here right now. We're doing self scout and preparing for the draft and free agency. My understanding is I will probably get yelled at just as much now by Coach Peyton as I did as a player. So that, that shouldn't be all that different probably.
And what are your hours, and you know what, now people don't, I guess people do know about your restaurant. So there, I know you obviously have business partners, so it's just not you, but, you know, do you maintain your stake there? Did you maintain your involvement there?
I have a great team over there (Port Orleans), people that I really trust and I know are going to continue to do a great job. You know, my involvement there certainly gets reduced, right? I mean, we're working here five days a week, you know, I really just have weekends open in time that, you know, I look forward to spending with my family now, knowing that the season is such a time commitment. So I really trust that group. Now, they're keeping me in the loop, I get emails throughout the day, you know, fortunately I live on the North Shore, so I've got an hour in the car, both directions. And so that's kind of where I've been spending time on the phone catching up on what's going on and being able to, again, add some inputs in terms of what we're doing and directions we're going. So there'll be an involvement, but certainly not like it was, I mean, this is a this is a more than full-time commitment, the decision to come and coach, and I think it makes you value that that time you have outside of the building, even more with your family. And so I'm certainly taking a good jump into the back seat, but again, and I've got a great team there that I trust a ton and I'm still in the loop. And and you know, we'll still be involved in some capacity, but certainly not like I was.
So now Zach, you're joining a staff, a team that's won four consecutive division championships. Did that make it an easier selling point? I mean, I would assume it made that a lot easier selling point instead of going to a team that's won three games for the last four years.
The reality. And again, I'm in a really, really unique position, right? So one of the biggest and most attractive things coming back here, obviously people know I played here and I've been around this organization a long time, but the amount of stability that exists in this building is really, it's nearly unparalleled in professional sports. You know, when I walked back in here and now under this coaching staff, you know, all the guys that were coaching when I left three years ago are still here. You know, the general manager is still here. We have Terry Fontenot go make the jump to general manager and who replaces him, you know, somebody who I know very well. And so there's a ton of stability and familiarity with the people in the building. And even more so than just the fact that they're winning, it's that knowledge and understanding that you have a chance to be here for a prolonged period of time. And I think, you know, for me this being, you know, the, the organization that I played for and, and the general manager I played under and head coach, I played under you know, I have a really, I have a lot of loyalty to, to not only the organization, but to those two men. And I kind of see, you know, my role here as, Hey, I got to find a way to keep them, you know, going here as long as possible. And it's beneficial to me and I, my wife is from New Orleans. I would love to stay here for a long time. I know that in coaching, sometimes the job takes you in other directions, but I've, I've had pretty good luck staying loyal to this one place. And I think I intend to do that moving forward as best I can. And so it's even more so the stability here that's so attractive and the ability to maybe stay inside of this building for a long time.
You know, you mentioned this stability and longevity, when you add a person like Zach Strief is that another one of those ways where Coach Payton kind of injects new ideas, new blood new, new approaches and all those kinds of things to keep it fresh within the organization, because you seen it from the inside, you're seeing it from both sides of that. One of the ways he kind of keeps things fresh and popping?
There's certainly an advantage to having a different perspective. Right. I think that being able to communicate to the coaching staff, how we would, would see certain things or how it feels as alignment, you know, and, and give some thoughts and ideas is certainly helpful. And I think one of the things that makes great organizations is that ability and openness to new ideas and thoughts, and that open dialogue that exists in this staff about what guys think, and, you know, what would be the best way to handle this situation. And you know, I think that's, that's really something that has made this group really successful from a staff perspective. So certainly I think there's some help there. And, and that's the way that I see my role right now is learn and absorb as much as I can about the greater offense, right? Like I know the offense, I know the terminology and yet I've never been real worried about what the Z receiver's doing, right. It's never really popped into my head as a player. So I have a ton of stuff to learn, but there are also also perspectives that I have that I think can help you know, not only the staff, but the players. And, and again, my, my challenges to, to really pick and choose where I inject some of that information while also, you know, again, being as humble as possible and making sure that the staff knows that I'm here to learn and to contribute where I can and not to be maybe the same personality that I was as a player in year 11 and 12, which was a very different role, a much more vocal role than I'll take on now on the staff.
How much of a mental stimulant has this been for you because you seem to be pretty invigorated?
I think getting back in, and, and again, finding something that you have so much to learn about and, and and more than anything being surrounded by the types of people that thrive in this industry, right. Highly driven, highly capable, motivated individuals who are experts at their craft, right? That's everybody now you're just surrounded by it throughout the entire building. And I think that really puts you in a great mental headspace to do the same. To have that same drive and motivation. And you know, the one thing about doing play-by-play is it's largely an independent job, right? You're alone a lot, the preparation, all that stuff, you kind of do alone and you're reliant on yourself to be self-motivated. And I don't think I lack that, but I think there's something special about being surrounded by people who are all working at the level that the people in this building work to achieve a singular goal. I think it just, you can't help but feel motivated by it. And so I would definitely tell you, I feel charged about the prospects of all of it. And you know that's one of the things you really miss when you leave a building like this is, is not being constantly surrounded by this type of an environment.
Well, we're looking forward to it. And that is a great talk right there, Zach man, we're looking forward to seeing you on the sidelines and now doing your new thing. So that's Zach Strief ladies and gentlemen, not a keeper of secrets. He didn't hold it from us. He didn't know himself. You heard him say it himself, even though, you know, I was wondering, I, I looked up and I was like, what in the world happened? And so now I know not to blame it on him.
John here, listen, John, here's the real, this is the reality, right? Listen, I just got to hang out with you on the weekends. I said, I got to see John more often. What do I have to do to get a little bit more John in my life? I'll just coach. I'll see him every day.