If Sean Payton was looking for a blessing in disguise during a season-long suspension from his team last fall, he found it when he went back to where it all began.
It’s not at all difficult to imagine a gum-chomping Payton, with visor resting on his head and massive play card in hand, putting son Connor’s youth team through its paces.
It was easy to see Wednesday that their twice-weekly practices and Saturday games helped Payton get by during his time away from the Saints, even if it wasn’t the real thing.
“We got to the Super Bowl, but we lost,” Payton said on his first day back with the New Orleans Saints after being reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I needed those players on that team probably more than they needed me,” a pensive Payton said as he reflected on the experience. “It was something that was a completely different perspective on youth sports. … I had some really good moments having a chance to do that.”
Not that he didn’t mind, but it was back to reality Wednesday.
During a 45-minute news conference after taking in the North team’s Senior Bowl practice in Mobile, Ala., Payton mentioned several times how much work needed to be done to get his team back on track.
Which is why he was grateful to be reinstated almost two weeks earlier than his scheduled return.
He was obviously ready to find the underlying causes for the Saints’ 7-9 season as well as solutions for getting his team back to postseason play after missing out for the first time since 2008.
With that, Payton rolled up the sleeves on his gray shirt and began by looking at a defense that allowed an NFL record 7,042 yards and ranked at or near the bottom of the league in virtually every telltale category.
Payton was already three weeks behind his staff when he showed up at the Senior Bowl workouts Wednesday morning, so his list of things to do was already long with no time to waste.
When he said that everything would be evaluated — starting with the coaches, players and scheme — he really meant it.
His first order of business Thursday was firing first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and secondary coach Ken Flajole, who was Spagnuolo’s defensive coordinator in 2011 with the St. Louis Rams, and junking the team’s 4-3 defense in favor of a 3-4.
“I’m anxious to hear how everyone felt,” Payton said Wednesday.
“Generally, when you have great success, it’s because you have the right players and you have coaches doing a very good job — and you’ve got the right scheme.”
Apparently, they didn’t in his eyes.
Running the ball more effectively and consistently is right up there, as well as special teams play, particularly in kick coverage (see New York Giants game).
To be sure, there’s no shortage of things to look at and work on.
And after Thursday, you can rest assured Payton will look at them all.
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