Sean Payton is in relaxation mode as he recharges for his next job, but is afraid he won’t be back


HARRISON, Idaho — After hitting his best tee shot of the day — a straight-line drive that climbed at least 200 yards — Sean Payton danced. Or something like that. And he talked about trash.

Pat Burrell, the former major league outfielder standing nearby, was hardly amused.


“Are you dancing on tee shots now and not birdie?” Burrell chided in disbelief.

Birdies were surely rare for Payton, but he was eager to celebrate nonetheless.

“I’m the only coach in the NFL who can do The Griddy,” Payton said while demonstrating his version of the popular dance. “And it’s documented!”

Check it out, Sean. Has been the only coach in the NFL…

Payton, 58, is officially on hiatus, stepping away in January from the gig he held with the New Orleans Saints for 16 years and looking to freshen up in preparation for a potential sideline return. He stays connected to the league by working weekends as a studio analyst for Fox Sports, but in many ways this new NFL season represents a chance for an intense workaholic to unplug.

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Sean Payton is enjoying his year without football. Here he is with the trophy presented by Wayne Gretzky on which is inscribed “Rookie of the Year”.

While Payton and his wife, Skylène, still have a home in New Orleans, they have primarily made their home in the house purchased in May 2020 in an exclusive golf and lake community in northern Idaho.

It’s a laid-back backdrop with a rich and famous lifestyle flavor. As Payton headed for breakfast in his golf cart recently, Justin Bieber waved as he set off for a morning stroll. Other neighbors include Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon and Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Cooper. And as Payton looked over a ridge with a view of Lake Coeur d’Alene, he pointed out a huge swath of land he said had been purchased by the Kardashians.

His group of golfers happens to include the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky – who fueled the relaxed atmosphere with several one-liners.

Of course, it’s been a long time since Payton started an NFL season with such minimal stress. It’s natural to wonder if Payton – who reports no health issues but claimed ‘I want to be in better shape’ on his return – was simply exhausted.

Sean Payton worked on his golf game while away from the NFL.

Sean Payton worked on his golf game while away from the NFL.


Payton recalls sitting with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, one of his best friends, and crying as they discussed leaving, which he had been considering since mid-season last. Saints owner Gayle Benson urged him to leave town for a week before making his decision final.

“I came back, I thought about it and it was still good,” Payton said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t miss them. At that time, to me, it felt right. It could be “burnout”. Now, I have a feeling that term might be a bit more definitive. But “tired” is a good term.

“Some people will say, ‘Well, he’s not working efficiently. He doesn’t need those long hours. For me, I needed more time during the week to watch a movie. And drinking Coke or Pepsi late at night, at 2am, I like that. It doesn’t look like work. And, man, there’s nothing better than winning.

Payton is the winningest coach in Saints history (161-97, including the playoffs), with a resume marked by a Super Bowl XLIV triumph and seven division titles.

Despite his credentials, it’s striking to hear him admit perhaps his greatest fear.

“You’re scared you won’t come back,” Payton said.

It’s hard to fathom, given that Payton checks so many boxes that NFL owners seem to take into account when it comes to hiring coaches, and typically, at least half a dozen coaching jobs. coach open each hiring cycle. Plus, it’s obvious that Payton, still under contract with the Saints, was undoubtedly on the radar of Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Although the Dolphins were denied permission to speak to Payton after he left the Saints, Ross in August was fined $1.5 million and the Dolphins docked first- and third-round picks. for violating anti-tampering policies in the pursuit of Payton and Bucs quarterback Tom Brady. , who share the same agent, Don Yee.

In June, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, citing an unnamed league source, that the Dolphins were willing to make Payton the highest-paid coach in the NFL with a five-year, $100 million offer. To complete this deal, however, Miami would have had to make a trade with the Saints first.

“When I walked away, I walked away,” Payton said. “I heard the story that they asked permission, was denied. I can’t control this.

Sean Payton won Super Bowl XLIV with the New Orleans Saints.

Sean Payton won Super Bowl XLIV with the New Orleans Saints.

“Look, you want to be wanted, so that’s a good feeling. And yet… my agent, he knew that I was moving away and taking a year. Would that be something you would pay attention to? Yeah. Tom Brady is involved and all? Sure. It was about me but it didn’t involve me.

“I was in Mexico or I was about to come here. My goal was not so much to team up with Tom as to beat them.”

The Cowboys

There is also speculation that Payton could be the next Dallas Cowboys coach. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Mike McCarthy is in a hot seat that could sizzle if the Cowboys don’t advance deep into the playoffs (kids, it happened all the time). And Payton, who worked on his mentor Bill Parcells’ team in Dallas before becoming Saints coach, has a good relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

“Bill and Jerry got along great,” Payton said. “They communicated. And Bill always said, ‘There’s one thing about Jerry: he’s passionate about winning. He could be sold on something. You could move it. “

When it is suggested that Jones regularly seeks opinions before making big decisions, Payton replied, “Does he listen to too many people?”

Time will tell if Payton finally comes into play for the Cowboys.

“Somebody go get a coach”

Even if he proves to be a smash hit for the Fox Sports team, Payton approaches his role on television – at least for now – as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. He has been consistent in the assertion that he charges for a purpose.

“Look, 98% of guys train until someone knocks on the door and they say it’s time for you to go,” Payton said. “Periodically a guy like Bill Cowher decides he doesn’t want to be a coach anymore. A guy like Parcells, it’s on his terms. These are the exceptions, not the norm.

“What I want to say about the comeback is that I don’t take it for granted,” Payton said, reverting to fear that he would no longer be a coach. “But I think there will be some interest. I think someone will look for a coach.

The last time Payton took a year off from NFL training, it was forced. He was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the entire 2012 season for allowing the Saints to operate a bounty system (which was largely fueled by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams).

Payton finally came back strong after the suspension, which he says allows him to take “100%” from this experience to have a prospect of returning next time.

“I know how I felt when I came back,” he said. “Man, I was ready-ready.

“Look, I don’t think anyone can plan it, but if the opportunity is there and you’re in position, I don’t think a break is a bad thing.”

Especially if Payton returns to a situation that would make him dance The Griddy.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-Saints coach Sean Payton chills but admits he’s been scared