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It’s been six months since Sean Payton took over as head coach of the Denver Broncos. And he’s wasted no time going scorched earth on the former regime.
“Everything I heard about last season, we’re doing the opposite,” Payton said.
In an interview with USA Today, the outspoken coach described everything that went wrong in the Broncos’ disappointing 2022 campaign.
“It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed,” Payton said. “And that happened here. Part of it was their own fault, relative to spending so much (expletive) time trying to win the offseason — the PR, the pomp and circumstance, marching people around and all this stuff.”
He doesn’t care about hype and star power. And he certainly doesn’t care about TV shows.
“We’re not doing any of that,” Payton said definitively. “The Jets did that this year. You watch. ‘Hard Knocks,’ all of it. I can see it coming. Remember when (former Washington owner) Dan Snyder put that Dream Team together? I was at the Giants (in 2000). A young coach. I thought, ‘How are we going to compete with them? Deion’s (Sanders) there now.’ That team won eight games or whatever. So, listen… just put the work in.”
Payton plans to bring strong leadership and discipline back to the Broncos’ organization. And when the team reported for Training Camp this week, the Super Bowl-winning coach laid down the law.
“Hey, we are going to be on time,” he said. “We’re going to learn how rewarding it is to play for each other, compete for each other, rather than for ourselves. And I expect us to think playoffs.”
Sean Payton Discusses Mishandling of QB Russell Wilson
Despite high expectations leading up to the season, the 2022 Broncos were a disaster. Under head coach Nathaniel Hackett, Denver struggled to a 5-12 season.
And there’s no sugar coating it: Russell Wilson was terrible. But Payton expects the veteran quarterback to turn things around in 2023.
“Man, we ran that kid through the car wash a hundred times now,” Payton said of his dynamic with Wilson. “But that’s a storyline, though. How is this going to look? How’s it going to work? You know what? We’re fixing to find out.”
Wilson signed a five-year, $245 million extension last year before taking a single snap in Denver. And at the time, the money made sense. A nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion, Wilson was a star for the Seattle Seahawks.
But in his first season with the Broncos, Wilson saw a career-worst passer rating of 84.4, a career-low 16 touchdown passes and a career-high 55 sacks.
“There’s so much dirt around that,” Payton said. “There’s 20 dirty hands, for what was allowed, tolerated in the fricking training rooms, the meeting rooms. The offense. I don’t know Hackett. A lot of people had dirt on their hands.
“It wasn’t just Russell. He didn’t just flip. He still has it. This B.S. that he hit a wall? Shoot, they couldn’t get a play in. They were 29th in the league in pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball.”
Unlike last season, Wilson will not be allowed to bring his personal quarterback coach, Jake Heaps, or other outside personnel to the team’s facility. Payton also took away the veteran QB’s second-floor private office.
“That wasn’t his fault,” Payton explained. “That was the parents who allowed it. That’s not an incrimination on him, but an incrimination on the head coach, the GM, the president and everybody else who watched it all happen.”
Coach Has High Expectations Moving Forward
Payton has made it clear the team is leaving the past in the past.
In the spring, he asked the Broncos’ video department to create a film that showed team equipment staff members riding off in a 2022 Ford Bronco — with the rear and side mirrors removed. Then came a scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where John Candy’s character drove the wrong way on a freeway. The video concludes with a shot of a truck driving off a cliff.
“That was a message,” Payton said. “They can only beat the (expletive) out of you so much. But everybody’s got a little stink on their hands. It’s not just Russell. It was a (poor) offensive line. It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”
Not exactly a glowing review for Hackett.
And to open Camp, Payton showed his team a nature documentary on baby iguanas.
“When these baby iguanas are hatched, they pop their heads out of the sand, and they’ve got to get to the cliffs,” Payton said. “There are runner snakes all around, and they feed off the babies. So, the message is, ‘We’ve got to hit the ground running. There’s a sense of urgency. Let’s hit the ground running.'”
After last season’s embarrassment, the Denver Broncos were in desperate need of a culture change. Payton undoubtedly brought that.
But there’s only one thing that truly changes the morale of a team, its staff and its fanbase.
“Winning,” he said. “It’s the salve for the whole organization. Makes everyone feel better.”
And Payton certainly plans to do plenty of that. In fact, he’s already set the expectation for his first year in the Mile High City.
“I’m going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team.”