Sean Payton explains stepping away from Saints: Biggest takeaways from coach’s farewell to New Orleans

Sean Payton officially stepped away from his position as Saints head coach on Tuesday, marking at least the temporary end of a 16-year run in New Orleans. Is the former Super Bowl champion actually retiring? Does he have plans to coach again? And how soon? Payton spent more than an hour addressing reporters and answering some of those questions in a farewell press conference.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways:

Is he retiring? “I don’t like the word ‘retirement,'” Payton said. “I still have a vision for doing things in football, and I’ll be honest with you, that might be coaching again at some point.”

But will he coach somewhere in 2022? “I don’t think it’ll be this year,” he said. “That’s not where my heart is right now. It’s not at all … My plans are not to be coaching in 2022, and that’s just how I feel. I think it’s easier to be fired, as difficult as that is. But when you choose to leave … it was a decision ultimately that sat with me, and I’m comfortable with it.”

Then what’s next? “I don’t know what’s next,” he said, before teasing a move to a broadcasting role. “I’ve not spoken to anyone relative to doing TV … (but) I think I’d like to do that. I think I’d be pretty good at it … I’d like to try TV. I talked to Drew (Brees) a little bit about it last night. That’d be something that would interest me.”

When did he know this was coming? Payton indicated that longtime quarterback Drew Brees’ retirement in March 2021 may have sparked thoughts of his own future, and pointed to the start of 2021 training camp — as well as the entire ensuing season — as the start of serious contemplation. “I felt it was the right time,” he said. “It was a personal decision of feeling, like, it’s time.”

So did the 2021 season force him out? “The season didn’t weigh on me,” Payton said, referring to the Saints’ 9-8 finish and failure to make the playoffs. “The season wasn’t exhausting. It was exciting.” He noted that stepping away will simply allow him to spend more time with family, traveling and getting in shape after 16 years on the job.

Where does this leave the Saints? Payton said defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is a “great candidate in the building” but acknowledged New Orleans will conduct a full search for his replacement. He also said he’ll spend the next few weeks meeting one-on-one with players to say goodbye.

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