NEW ORLEANS From afar, it seemed as if the daily practice grind at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, was as much about toughening up New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton as teaching his team the meaning of true grit.
Perhaps he had grown complacent, maybe became too comfortable, putting his team through its paces in a picturesque resort setting near the Blue ridge Mountains the past two summers. Yes, coaches and players put in the required time on the practice field each day but did they spend the time wisely and as efficiently as possible? Yes, coaches and players huddled in the classroom but did that time produce the desired results?
Just because one puts in the time doesn't mean the time was well spent.
I'm only asking the questions. Only Payton knows for sure.
It's hard to argue with the premise, however. Back-to-back 7-9 seasons in 2014 and '15 after a 11-5 record and trip to the postseason in 2013 suggest something went awry. Twice missing the playoffs in '14 and '15 largely because of a failing defense suggest systemic problems and loss of direction inside the football operations.
The bottom line is it all starts at the top, with Payton and GM Mickey Loomis.
For my money, the buck stops with Payton, and the last time I looked he's making quite a few bucks after inking a new five year, $45 million deal during the offseason.
Truth be told, Payton needed to get back to basics, beginning with his roster, his offseason program and his training camp regimen. Payton needed to reboot his modem, rethink his priorities and reinvigorate himself.
Football is as much about attitude as it is about ability. It's a tough, demanding game played by violent-minded players who welcome challenges.
All signs indicate Payton had become distracted by the ongoing legal problems facing club owner Tom Benson the past 18 months, uncertain of what tomorrow might bring if the team were to fall in the hands of estranged family members. As the Saints seemed to wander aimlessly through the NFL schedule last season, rampant rumors and speculation persisted that Payton either would walk or be fired at season's end.
Hard to stay focused amidst all the outside noise, especially when you are the center of the attention.
There is a reason why Payton turned back the clock and made training camp away from New Orleans more resemble his first boot camp in 2006 in the suana-like conditions at Millsaps College in Jackson. He needed to shock the troops, to change a losing culture and re-establish the mission message.
As much for himself as his team.
Payton's message came across loud and clear in '06. That season, the Saints won 10 games, captured the NFC South and advanced to their first-ever NFC championship game. Three seasons later, they claimed their first Lombardi Trophy.
Tough times require tough players and coaches to tough it out, and perhaps that football axiom got lost the past few summers at The Greenbrier.
Time will tell if Payton proved his point.