Sean Payton: ‘I Don’t Know What’s Next, And It Kind Of Feels Good’

He came bearing king cakes – the delicacy of the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans.

He opened with Ted Lasso, his favorite show about a coach in a town he knew nothing about, much like himself.

He closed with thank you’s for the fans, and even the media.

And he cried.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said goodbye to coaching the franchise he has led since 2006 on Tuesday at the Saints facility in Metairie outside New Orleans, and he is unsure of what the future holds.

“I don’t know what’s next, and it kind of feels good,” Payton said.

There are reports that Payton will become an NFL analyst for FOX Sports or another network, but he said that he and his agent have not received such offers. And he did not rule out a return to coaching somewhere, but not in the 2022 season.

“I’ve not heard anything,” he said of a television career “I’ve not spoken to anyone. But I’d like to do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it. I don’t like the word ‘retirement.’ I still have a vision of me in football. That might be coaching again at some point, but not this year. That’s not where my heart is right now.”

Could it be in Dallas before too long?

Payton, obviously happy, relieved and emotional, had his heart on this day with the Saints and their fans as he said goodbye. He gave Saints owner Gayle Benson – the widow of the late Saints’ owner Tom Benson, who hired Payton after the 2005 season – a king cake.

“I’ve got like the best female owner in the world of sports,” Payton said. “It’s Mardi Gras season, and I’m a Ted Lasso fan. We don’t do biscuits here.”

Lasso makes shortbread, which is called biscuits in England, for his female owner in the Apple TV show.

“But we do do king cakes. So where’s Mrs. B? Mrs. B was awesome,” Payton said.

After giving Mrs. Benson a king cake, Payton said, “I also have like 100 of them for the media and everyone else to celebrate the Mardi Gras season.”

Payton met with Mrs. Benson, team president Dennis Lauscha and general manager Mickey Loomis in recent days to tell them he was leaving. They tried to get him to stay.

“This season was tough on everybody,” Payton said of the 9-8 campaign in 2021 that was filled with injuries and ended without a playoff berth after New Orleans went four straight seasons. “But man, I felt like it was time. I felt the time was right.”

Payton married for the second time over the summer to his girlfriend of 10 years – Skylene Montgomery, a former Miss West Virginia.

“Spend more time with my kids, travel, get in better shape,” Payton said when asked about leaving coaching. “Not many get to choose their terms.”

Payton’s salary was $9 million a year, and he is under contract through the 2024 season.

“The attention to detail that is so important can be exhausting,” he said. “It was a personal desire of feeling like it’s time. And I honestly don’t know what’s next.”

In 15 seasons as the Saints’ coach, Payton was 152-89 with the Super Bowl XLIV title in the 2009 season, seven NFC South titles and seven advances out of nine playoff appearances. New Orleans nearly reached a second Super Bowl in the 2018 season but lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 26-23, in overtime after nearly winning the game in regulation before a pass interference no-call near the goal line. That is known as one of the worst examples of NFL Playoffs officiating in history.

“It’s challenging. It’s difficult chasing it,” Payton said. “I told guys who hadn’t been to the Super Bowl, whatever you think of it, multiply it by 100,000. Then 200,000. That’s how good it is.”

Payton was the Dallas Cowboys quarterback coach under Bill Parcells from 2003-05 after serving as offensive coordinator of the New York Giants. He he came to the Saints after Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 season.

“I remember coming in on Interstate-10, and there was no traffic heading south into the city,” he said. “It was all headed north.”

Payton immediately put New Orleans in the NFC Championship game in his first season in 2006 with a state of the art offense behind San Diego free agent quarterback Drew Brees. The season also tremendously aided the spiritual rebuild of a city wrecked from Katrina. The Superdome’s roof was also shredded by the storm.

“We had a rule – no K word,” he said. “No one could say Katrina. The 2006 season was as important as any season we had. It became much bigger than football. We’ve had greater teams, but none was tougher than that ’06 team. That’s when I learned this is bigger than anything – more than just football.”

Soon, he fell in love with the city.

“I didn’t know how to eat crawfish,” said Payton, who grew up in Naperville, Illinois. “I was more into the beignets and the king cake with cream cheese filling. I’ve heard it said that it takes a village. Honestly, it takes a building to be successful year after year. It’s this building that I’m most proud. And I’m most proud of the culture and the winning seasons.”

When the Saints beat Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24, 2010, to send New Orleans to Super Bowl XLIV, Payton spoke to the crowd after the game.

“This building had holes in it,” he said as the crowd roared.

Payton closed his press conference by thanking the Saints fans – the Who Dat Nation that took over Miami before, during and after Super Bowl XLIV. Then those who didn’t make the trip swamped the New Orleans airport.

“Thank you for standing with us in the good times and the bad times,” he said. “This fan base has been amazing. It’s not a wine and cheese crowd. The tickets are a major part of their budgets. We didn’t quite know what we were getting into when we came here. I’ve become a Cincinnati Bengals fan, but that ‘Who Dey’ thing they’re saying, that came after.”

Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Payton said as “someone who had passion and cared a lot.”

He fought back tears again.

“But we’re not writing an obituary today,” he said. “It’s a step. I’ll miss the people.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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