Thursday, August 10, 2017
Saints head coach Sean Payton came to New Orleans at one of the lowest points in the franchise's history. Hurricane Katrina had racked the city, and the team spent the 2005 season playing every game on the road. New Orleans finished that year with a 3-13 record that cost former head coach Jim Haslett his job. The team took a chance and hired Payton, who had spent the 2005 season as the assistant head coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys.
The new head coach made a franchise-changing decision to sign free-agent quarterback Drew Brees, and both men ended up changing the perception of the Saints in the league.
Payton instantly turned the team around, finishing his inaugural season in 2006 with a 10-6 record and a trip to the playoffs. New Orleans played in its first NFC Championship Game but lost to the Chicago Bears.
New Orleans took a step back over the next two seasons under Payton, going 7-9 in 2007 and 8-8 in 2008, but things were about to look up.
In the 2009 season, Payton led the Saints to a 13-3 record as the team advanced to its first Super Bowl in team history. The Saints took down the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 and won Super Bowl XLIV, bringing New Orleans to the top of the football world.
Finally, after many seasons of losing, Hell froze over, and the Saints were champions. Payton took the franchise to a place that fans only dreamed about in those losing seasons while they watched games with bags over their heads.
New Orleans finished the 2010 season with an 11-5 record as defending champions but lost in a road playoff game to the Seattle Seahawks, who had a losing record at the time.
In 2011, the Saints reached the playoffs for the third straight season and for the second time in franchise history. They went 13-3 again in the regular season but 1-1 in the playoffs, this time losing a road playoff to the San Francisco 49ers.
The NFL suspended Payton in the 2012 season, coming down on the Saints for the "Bountygate" scandal, after officials discovered that the Saints were rewarding players for intentionally injuring players on opposing teams. New Orleans went 7-9 for the season, as the architect of the Saints' Super Bowl win sat at home, and the team's defense set a league record for most yards allowed at 7,042.
Saints fans and players were happy to see Payton return as the head coach in 2013. He promptly led New Orleans back to the postseason after an 11-5 regular season record, but the team then lost to the Seahawks in the playoffs once again.
Despite being knocked out, the 2013 playoffs weren't an entire bust for the Saints. A victory over the Philadelphia Eagles made Payton the first Saints coach to win a playoff game on the road. Before that, New Orleans had a 0-5 record on the road.
For the last three seasons, unfortunately, New Orleans has been the perfect picture of consistent mediocrity. The Saints have posted the same 7-9 record from 2014 to 2016 and have begun each season on a two-or-more-game losing streak.
What was once unthinkable after raising the Lombardi Trophy in 2009 might be the only possible outcome if things don't turn around for the Saints. Payton, the coach who has the most wins in franchise history at a 94-66 record, could be fired at the end of this season.
After three years of 7-9 records, he must turn this team around. Payton has traded two young offensive stars, Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks, and Brees is in the final year of his contract.
The media is bouncing Payton's name around as being one on the hot seat for this season. Anytime a coach gets stuck in a rut, his name will surface with questions about his job security. Whether his hot seat is real or imagined, Payton needs to win this season.