Sean Payton, who led the New Orleans Saints to an emotional Super Bowl win in the years after Hurricane Katrina, announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as the team’s head coach.
Payton, 58, had been with the organization since taking over before the 2006 season. He guided the Saints to playoffs nine times in his 15 seasons as head coach.
In 2009, the Saints energized New Orleans, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina four years earlier, on their way to a 13-3 regular season record and a march to their first and, so far, only Super Bowl title.
“I don’t like the word ‘retirement,’” Payton said Tuesday at a news conference. “I still have a vision for doing things in football. And I’ll be honest with you, that might be coaching again. … But that’s not where my heart is right now.”
He told reporters he doesn’t know what’s next in his career despite reports he might get a job in media.
“I think I’d like to do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it,” he said.
Before Payton arrived, the Saints had only seven winning seasons and they were 3-13 in 2005 as they played in several stadiums while the storm-damaged Louisiana Superdome was closed for repairs.
Payton talked Tuesday about the next season when the Saints had a rookie coach and a new quarterback, Drew Brees, and went 10-6.
“I don’t think any of us when we started, certainly I didn’t when I started, understood the dynamics and what took place post-Katrina with that ’06 season, that … I would argue was every bit important as any other season.”
The Saints made the playoffs that season but lost to the Bears in the NFC championship game. After two middling seasons, New Orleans started 2009 with eight consecutive wins, and the people of the city got back their “Who Dat?” attitude. The team kept going, lifting spirits and eventually lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“But Super Bowl XLIV wasn’t just the greatest moment in many long-suffering Saints fans’ lives; it was a critical turning point in the city’s post-Katrina renaissance. Payton restored a battered city’s swagger,” The Times-Picayune wrote in 2017.
Payton was not without his controversies. An NFL investigation found the team had an “active bounty program” during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons in which “bounty” payments were given to players for hits that hurt opposing players and knocked them out of the game.
Payton was suspended for the 2012 season.
According to the salary tracking website Spotrac, the Saints will retain Payton’s contract rights through 2024 and another team would have to compensate New Orleans should they sign Payton.