Brian Allee-Walsh

How Sean Payton broke out of a funk and made the Saints Super Bowl contenders again

John F. Kennedy once said, ‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.’‘

Further, the power to change is the power to grow.

Case in point: The New Orleans Saints are coming off two excellent runs at the Lombardi Trophy, winning back-to-back division championships in 2017 and ‘18 (26-10 overall) and making noise in the NFC playoffs each season.

They are poised again to win the NFC South and possibly play on the first Sunday of February at Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

And, it would never have happened without change.

There are many reasons why the Black and Gold have turned things around from three consecutive 7-9 campaigns and zero playoff appearances from 2014 through 2016 under Coach Sean Payton, beginning with the infusion of good, young players (Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore) and an emphasis on upgrading a ramshackle defense.

But there other compelling reasons, such as:

(1) Payton emerged from a self-induced funk at the age of 53 in January 2017, fueled in part of by persistent rumors that he wanted out of New Orleans, and rediscovered his coaching mojo.

(2) Payton made overdue changes on his coaching staff, firing longtime defensive assistants and loyal foot soldiers Joe Vitt (linebackers) and Bill Johnson (line), among others, following the last of three 7-9 seasons in 2016. Settling on Dennis Allen to run the defense and firing Rob Ryan in mid-season 2015 got the ball rolling.

(3) The Saints returned home to their Metairie facility for training camp in ‘17 after spending three consecutive summers at the posh Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

All three were necessary changes and not changes for change sake, which can be more damaging than no change at all.

The power to change is the power to grow.

Generally speaking, Payton has been unafraid to make personnel and logistical changes during his 12 seasons on the sideline in New Orleans (excluding 2012 when he had to serve a season-long suspension for his alleged role Bounty-gate). Oh, he’s made mistakes but what NFL coach hasn’t?

But, he’s hit the mark more often than not.

Once Payton got his head right, once he resumed doing his job and justifying his $9 million-a-year salary, the transformation from middle of the pack to upper echelon began in earnest.

Maybe, he was gently nudged by ownership and General Manager Mickey Loomis to fire Vitt and Johnson and hire new voices on defense. Maybe ownership decided on its own not to renew their contract with The Greenbrier Resort.

However, these decisions were reached, they needed to be made in order for the Saints to regain their rightful spot among the NFL’s elite franchises.

The changes have served them well.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at