Sean Payton’s Lasting Legacy As Saints Head Coach
Before Sean Payton arrived in New Orleans in 2006 for his first head coaching job in the NFL, the Saints franchise was historically at the bottom of the standings on a yearly basis. It took 21 seasons of existence before New Orleans finally had a winning record in a single season in 1987.
Under former head coach Jim Mora, the Saints actually made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 1990-1992, but they lost each time. In the late 90s, the organization had three rough years under Mike Ditka before bringing in Jim Haslett. Haslett made franchise history by winning the organization's first playoff game in his debut season in 2000. However, the Saints moved on after five seasons without another playoff appearance, and they hired Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Sean Payton in 2006.
Following a 3-13 season in 2005 where the team was displaced due to Hurricane Katrina, Payton found instant success in his first season, bringing the team to it's first ever conference championship game after going 10-6 in the regular season. He was named AP Coach of the Year following the incredible turnaround.
Three years later, the Saints boasted the NFL's top rated offense and won Super Bowl XLIV in 2009, giving New Orleans their first ever championship by taking down the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. In that game, Payton famously called for an onside kick to start the second half after trailing 10-6 at halftime, and the Saints recovered. That play was the turning point. New Orleans out-scored the Colts 25-7 in the second half, and the Lombardi trophy was finally in the Saints' possession.
Payton's Saints made the playoffs seven more times following the Super Bowl victory, but they never made it past the NFC Championship Game.
Before coach Payton, the Saints had only seven winning seasons in 39 years of existence. In Payton's 15-season tenure, they had 10 such seasons and never had a record worse than 7-9. Combined with legendary quarterback Drew Brees, Payton made the playoffs nine times and won the NFC South seven times. The two saw incredible success together in New Orleans.
Payton finished with a 152-89 record as head coach of the Saints: by far the most amount of wins in franchise history. The numbers pre and post-2006 are staggering.
In his Tuesday press conference regarding stepping down, Payton said that general manager Mickey Loomis took a chance on a first time head coach. He was thankful to Saints fans, and New Orleans should forever be grateful to him. Sean Payton changed how people saw Saints football, and he served an illustrious Hall of Fame career here. That's his legacy in New Orleans. He was both a winner and a champion who built a culture of football success in a city that saw next to none of it in it's entire history before him.
Payton also mentioned in the press conference that the way the Saints are viewed by anyone younger than 22 is "pretty cool." There's an entire generation of New Orleans football fans that have grown up rooting for winning teams, and that simply hasn't been the case for most of the organization's history. It's the end of an era, and the next head coach will have incredibly large shoes to fill, because there will never be another Sean Payton.