Brian Allee-Walsh

Winning will stop Sean Payton departure rumors

NEW ORLEANS

I know what Sean Payton has said with regards to his current coaching status in New Orleans and the ongoing, unsubstantiated, source-driven reports that link him to potential NFL openings in Indianapolis and Miami at season's end.

His response has been both predictable and believable. The phrase "politically correct'' comes to mind.

"I love it here (New Orleans),'' he said.

"I just built a place here,'' he explained.

"This is where I see myself,'' he concluded.

So really, what would you expect Payton to say?

"Absolutely, I am interested in both those jobs should they come open. Who wouldn't be? Both are great NFL cities, with great fan bases, with great owners who put their teams in the best possible position to succeed on an annual basis. Definitely, I can see myself laying down roots in either locale. I have to be honest, the present in-fighting with owner Tom Benson and members of his family has me a little concerned about my future. Plus, Drew Brees isn't getting any younger and we will be facing a serious cap situation with his contract this offseason. Ten years is plenty long to be in the same job. Maybe, it's time for me to consider a change of address. So yeah, I'd be a fool not to throw my hat in the ring.

"Meantime, I've got a job to do here with the Saints. My immediate focus is on our next game and our next game just happens to be against my future employer, er, I mean, the Indianapolis Colts.''

Even if Payton felt that way, discretion is always the better part of valor. He'd be a fool to show his cards with two-plus years remaining on a five-year, $40 million contract.

And Sean Payton is no fool.

No, Payton will continue to his job in New Orleans to the best of his ability. If the wins come more readily over the next couple months, then the rumors and speculation surrounding his job in New Orleans likely will cease and desist. If the losses mount, those reports might gain traction.

Know this: Colts coach Chuck Pagano is on much thinner ice in Indy than Payton is in New Orleans.

Pagano finds himself in the final year of his current contract with owner Jim Irsay after reportedly turning down a short-term extension during the offseason.

The Colts were viewed in the preseason as one capable of winning 13, maybe 14 games, and poised to overtake defending Super Bowl champion New England in the AFC.

An unexpected 0-2 start and now 3-3 record after the latest loss to the Patriots has fueled recent reports that Pagano's days may be numbered in Indy, that he and GM Ryan Grigson are not on the same page, and Irsay has a short list that features Payton and former coaches/turned TV analysts Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher, among others.

So, why is Payton being mentioned as a possible successor in Indy, if indeed, Irsay pulls the plug on Pagano? Payton is under contract, making great money and working for an owner who appears to worship him.

Why? Because Payton fits the modus operandi. He's considered to be an offensive guru who could help take QB Andrew Luck to the next level. Payton has won the Lombardi Trophy, though his star has lost some of its luster and the Saints are underachieving for a second consecutive year.

"The expectations are high in both cities; the bar is high, maybe too high,'' said Rick Venturi, a longtime NFL assistant who served as an interim head coach for both the Colts and Saints and now works as a TV/radio analyst in Indianapolis.

"If nothing else, the slow starts leaves both coaches open to the speculation.''

The question is not if Payton is interested in jobs in Indianapolis, or Miami, or Southern Cal, or the University of Texas. The rumors and speculation that link his name to those reports are groundless and unfounded, media-generated minutiae that he can -- and has -- casually dismissed with a simple brush of his hand.

The better question is why hasn't he been more successful recently in New Orleans and turned around a floundering franchise? The Saints haven't been above the .500 mark since the 2013 season.

The floor is yours, coach Payton.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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