METAIRIE, La. — Sean Payton has decided to step away as the New Orleans Saints’ coach after 16 years, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Payton is not necessarily retiring permanently but has decided to take a break after 15 seasons as the Saints’ coach, the source said. He totaled 15 seasons as Saints’ coach because he was suspended in 2012 as a result of the bounty investigation.
It’s not immediately clear what Payton plans to do next. Sources have told ESPN that television networks have shown considerable interest in hiring him.
The news of Payton’s decision was first reported by NFL Network.
Payton, 58, has three years remaining on his deal with the Saints after signing his latest extension in 2019. So, the Saints would maintain his rights if he decides to return to coaching — and could require compensation if he wants to coach for another team.
In the meantime, the Saints will enter a new era after quarterback Drew Brees also retired before the 2021 season. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. could be considered among potential replacements for Payton, though New Orleans will certainly explore options outside of the building as well.
Payton made his mark as the winningest coach in Saints history and one of the NFL’s all-time great offensive minds. He and Brees arrived together in 2006 and led New Orleans to the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history in 2009.
Payton is tied for 21st in NFL history with 152 career victories, according to Pro Football Reference. His career record is 152-89 (.631 winning percentage), not including his season-long suspension in 2012. Payton is 9-8 in the postseason.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Payton and the Saints rank first in NFL history in both points scored (27.6 per game) and yards gained (391.2 per game) among all coach-team combos with at least five seasons together.
The Saints missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons with a 9-8 record in 2021. But in many ways it ranked among Payton’s most impressive coaching jobs considering Brees’ retirement, a roster that was depleted by major injuries, salary-cap cuts, COVID-19 issues, and a hurricane evacuation to Dallas for the first month of the season.
Payton acknowledged how draining the season was in Week 18.
“This stretch has been, I don’t want to say exhausting, but it’s been one of those where you just get on to the [next task]. Nothing surprises you,” Payton said. “When you go all the way back to the start of the season, it feels like 2½ years ago we were evacuating to Dallas during the hurricane. I mean, it doesn’t feel like that’s part of this season.
“I’m trying to think of a good way to describe it. Like, there’s a certain bar or temperament for news that you normally have. And then when it keeps coming and coming and coming via text or in meetings, then pretty soon that bar gets raised because you just keep getting hitting in the side of the head. And at some point you’ve gotta smile and then bow up a little bit and get ready for the challenge still.”
Payton began his NFL career as a quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles from 1997-98 before becoming a QB coach and offensive coordinator with the New York Giants from 1999-2002 and an assistant head coach/passing game coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-2005.
Payton’s longevity in New Orleans is a rarity in today’s NFL. Only the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick has been with his team longer. Also, Payton had four seasons of 11-plus wins in his second decade with the Saints. Only three other coaches have done that in the Super Bowl era: Belichick (nine), Tom Landry (eight), Don Shula (six).