A Long Time Coming
Sean Payton has been the Saints coach since 2006 and won a Super Bowl in the Big Easy. For the first time on Sunday, he’ll finally coach against one of his former assistants when the Bills come to the Superdome ... plus 11 thoughts from around the league going into Week 8
It’s somewhat surprising it’s taken this long, given his success and longevity, but Sunday will mark the first time Saints coach Sean Payton has faced a team directed by one of his former assistant coaches, when Doug Marrone leads the Bills into the Superdome.
That’s not the extent of Payton’s coaching tree. He was supposed to face Raiders coach Dennis Allen, a secondary coach in New Orleans from 2006-10, last season, but Payton missed the entire season after being suspended for the bounty scandal. Curtis Johnson, the Saints’ receivers coach from ’06-11, is the head coach at Tulane.
“It just goes with being in the league longer,” Payton said of facing Marrone. “It is nice to have guys that were on that initial staff, like Doug or Dennis Allen, to get opportunities as head coaches. That is something that I am excited about, and the organization feels good about. He did a great job while he was here.”
Some only think of Marrone as a college coach, since he made the short drive from Syracuse to Buffalo. But Marrone is a pro coach, having put in eight years as Jets and Saints assistant before going back to college. And it was in New Orleans, on Payton’s first staff in 2006 with guys like Allen and Johnson, where Marrone really made his mark as offensive line coach and coordinator. That staff has a special place in Payton’s heart, considering the challenge they faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They wound up building a foundation for a Super Bowl winner.
“Trying to find coaches with families to come into the region was sometimes difficult,” Payton said. “That initial staff, a lot of those guys came with promotions—we weren’t winning many jump balls, if you will, in the hiring process. We had a handful of attempts at hiring guys. Doug was someone that I had met before, and he was still under contract with the Jets, and finally was able to get out of his contract. I had a chance to interview him and felt really, really comfortable with his expertise and his ability to teach. That initial staff was pretty special, and he is someone that I’ve stayed in close touch with throughout the years.”
Marrone built the offensive line for the ’09 Super Bowl winner from the ground up. “We had a lot of transition in that first year if you look at the starting offensive line in 2006 compared to the year before we got here, there were a lot of new faces,” Payton said. “He did a real good job.”
Marrone said his time with the Saints and Payton factored “quite a bit” in putting him in his current position.
“Sean and I, we had a working relationship and we had a close friendship,” Marrone said. “To be close to him and see what he went through as a head coach was obviously very helpful. Having the ability to sit in with (general manager) Mickey Loomis and (director of college scouting) Rick Reiprish and the people in the scouting department—be involved with pro and college—I think that experience is invaluable for what you get, especially for when you’re working with great people. I was very fortunate to have that and it’s been a big part of who I am today and what I’ve learned.”
The Bills are still hanging on in the AFC East (3-4) thanks to last Sunday’s 23-21 comeback win over the Dolphins, which featured the team’s fourth-string quarterback, Thad Lewis (if you count Kevin Kolb before being lost to a concussion). Say one thing about Marrone’s Bills: they battle. Their three victories have come by a combined seven points. Three of the four losses have come by seven points or fewer. The next two weeks, at New Orleans and home against the Chiefs, will likely make or break the Bills’ season.
But no matter what happens, the players believe in Marrone.
“Everybody’s (uncertain) when you get a new coach, especially coming from Syracuse and college,” said veteran running back Fred Jackson. “After the first conversation I had with him, I liked everything he had to say and what his whole mindset was. I’ve been on his train ever since. I’m excited about what he’s brought to Buffalo and what he’s going to continue to do and working towards getting it done. It’s all aboard. I tell everybody in the locker room that as well.”
Toward the end of their tenures in Philadelphia, it appeared that Joe Banner had lost a power struggle with then-coach Andy Reid when Banner, the team president, left in 2012. Yet it was hard to tell after hearing Reid talk about Banner (now the Browns’ president) this week. “I’m a big Joe Banner fan,” said Reid, who had been asked to characterize their relations. “I spent 14 great years with him and we had a ton of success together. He was one of those instrumental in me being part of the Philadelphia Eagles and he gave me every opportunity along with (owner) Jeffrey Lurie to win football games. He’s a brilliant guy. He knows football, he knows talent, he knows what it takes to win. I think he will do a nice job (in Cleveland).”
Reid said fans should have faith in Banner and his staff, even if they were puzzled by moves like the Trent Richardson trade. “You see the different moves he’s making strategically with the trades and accumulating draft picks, he’s very, very good at that,” said Reid, now the Chiefs coach after getting fired by the Eagles last December. “What might seem crazy now, you just watch how it blossoms in the future. He’s got a great eye for putting things together that way.”