Sean Payton stepping down as head coach of Saints after 15 seasons

Sean Payton's storied run with the New Orleans Saints is finished.

Payton is stepping down as head coach of the Saints, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday.

Payton, 58, leaves the Saints with an overall regular-season record of 152-89 and a postseason mark of 9-8, including one Super Bowl victory and the 2006 AP Coach of the Year award, in 15 seasons.

"Honestly, as I sit here today, and this is OK, I don't know what's next," Payton told reporters during a Tuesday news conference. "Look, I read the reports and I've not spoken to anyone from a media outlet relative to doing television or radio, maybe that opportunity arises but every time I read something that says like, 'He's in line for this job,' I'll call my agent, Don [Yee], and I'll say, 'Don, did you hear something? 'Cause I've not heard anything.' And that's OK. I think I'd like to do that, I think I'd be pretty good at it. So, steppin' outside like in the cold weather today and be a little uncomfortable professionally or from a career standpoint is OK. I don't like the word 'retirement,' Mr. B [late owner Tom Benson] didn't like it either, he always said 'retirement's overrated.' We get sold this image of retirement by these investment groups on TV and golf courses and, so, yeah, I still have a vision for doing things in football and, I'll be honest with ya, that might be coaching again at some point. I don't think it's this year, I think maybe in the future but that's not where my heart is right now. It's not at all."

Payton later reiterated his next stop might be TV.

"I've had some opportunities," he said. "I talked to Drew (Brees) about it a little bit last night. I don't know that part of it that well, but that would be something that would interest me."

Rapoport reported that Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is considered the leading candidate to replace Payton. Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn is also expected to interview, per Rapoport.

Rapoport reported Sunday that Payton, who had three years remaining on his contract, had not committed to returning to coach New Orleans after an incredibly difficult and challenging season.

Saints owner Gayle Benson confirmed the uncertainty in New Orleans on Monday when she said "I don't think any of us know" what Payton's future with the team is.

Now we have the answer, and the arduous 2021 season will go down as his last with the Saints. Payton acknowledged there might be speculation that he'll look to coach elsewhere in 2022 -- he has often been linked to Dallas, where he served as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach for three years before arriving in New Orleans -- but that isn't on his radar right now.

"I felt like 10 years went by and we talked about the other team for a lot, and I get it, I understand it. But no, my plans are not to be coaching in 2022. And that's just how I feel," Payton said.

Benson, who was in attendance at the news conference, released a statement through the team, professing her gratitude for Payton's contributions to the franchise and the region.

"On behalf of our entire organization, I have the highest appreciation for what Sean Payton has meant to the New Orleans Saints since 2006," Benson said. "Sean came to New Orleans during what was a difficult time for our organization, as well as the entire Gulf South region following Hurricane Katrina. Under his leadership, Sean helped lead this football team to new heights with easily its most successful period, showing what can be accomplished with a combination of vision, hard work, leadership of his coaching staff and players. We are grateful for everything Sean has given to this organization and this city and I give my best wishes to he and his lovely wife Skylene in the future."

Payton's time with the once-woeful Saints was nothing short of remarkable. The coach arrived in 2006, coinciding with the franchise's monumental signing of Brees. Together, Payton and Brees turned a club once known as little more than a laughingstock for much of its existence into a perennial contender.

The turnaround was instant, with Payton's squad winning 10 games in its first season and scoring a Divisional Round win over the Philadelphia Eagles before eventually falling to the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game. Payton would get his shot at a title a few years later when he led the Saints to a 13-3 regular-season finish, a first-round bye and two NFC playoff wins -- including a thrilling overtime triumph over Brett Favre's Minnesota Vikings, a game that would later serve as the source of massive controversy -- on the way to the franchise's first and only Super Bowl triumph.

Just four years into the job, Payton was a Super Bowl champion, taking down the powerful Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Three years later, the NFL suspended him for one season as a result of the league's investigation into New Orleans' bounty program.

When Payton returned, the Saints resumed their pursuit of football glory, winning 11 games in 2013 before falling into a rut that saw New Orleans finish 7-9 for three straight seasons. Payton weathered the storm, though, mounting a strong finish to the decade that included three straight winning seasons from 2017-2019. None saw the Saints return to the Super Bowl, with two seasons ending at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings, and another falling short in heartbreaking fashion in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Rams that produced its own dose of controversy and an NFL rule change -- the temporary implementation of reviewable pass interference -- that lasted for just one season.

Payton's legacy as a coach stretches beyond his one Lombardi Trophy won with the Saints. The former Eagles, Giants and Cowboys assistant rose through the ranks to become a pillar in the NFL, serving in the same role in New Orleans from 2006-2021, save for the 2012 season missed due to suspension. Payton's influence stretched beyond Louisiana, and the coach spent four years on the league's competition committee.

Under Payton's watch, the Saints were always considered to be contenders, and even fought until the end of their first season without Brees before being eliminated from postseason contention with a 9-8 record.

With a rebuild possible and uncertainty guaranteed under center, Payton isn't sticking around for the changes. One season of instability seemed to be enough for the coach, who was forced to start more quarterbacks in the season (four: Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and Ian Book) than any other coach in the NFL. Payton confirmed Tuesday that prior to a Week 16 matchup against the Dolphins, he even reached out to Brees about coming out of retirement to finish out the Saints' season.

Now, Payton will move on from the sideline he patrolled as New Orleans' leader for more than a decade.

Filling his shoes will be incredibly difficult for general manager Mickey Loomis, who hasn't had to hire a full-time head coach since firing Jim Haslett after the 2005 season.

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