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Nola.com: A humbled, driven Sean Payton determined to not let 2014 happen again: Jeff Duncan

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Saints' Sean Payton expands on offseason culture change By Jeff Duncan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune When Sean Payton sat down with general manager Mickey Loomis to perform the autopsy on the New Orleans Saints' 2014 season, he was committed to ...

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Old 06-21-2015, 05:18 PM   #1
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Nola.com: A humbled, driven Sean Payton determined to not let 2014 happen again: Jeff Duncan

Saints' Sean Payton expands on offseason culture change

By Jeff Duncan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

When Sean Payton sat down with general manager Mickey Loomis to perform the autopsy on the New Orleans Saints' 2014 season, he was committed to an exhaustive exploratory procedure...

It wasn't one thing. It was everything.

The problems were widespread, ...the Saints suffered a gradual erosion of the high standards Payton set when he took command in 2006...

..."I was shocked to hear we were second in the league in (fewest) penalties," Payton added. "I would have guessed we were 28th. We certainly were among the leaders in bone-headed mistakes...Accountability and attention to detail -- hallmarks of Payton teams -- waned. As the losses mounted, the locker room fractured.

..."I just recall in the latter part of that season, we were 'that team,'" Payton said. "We were still in it, but in every facet I saw where we needed to get better. And it starts with me. I know better."

In a league as competitive as the dog-eat-dog NFL, that's all it takes to plummet from 11-5 to 7-9.

"The best thing that ever happened to this organization was going 7-9 and not making the playoffs," veteran right tackle Zach Strief said..."If we would have slipped into the playoffs at 8-8 it would have been easy to say, 'Oh, we were right there. We were close.' ... No, we weren't. We were so far away."

The fallout was predictably unpleasant. Seven of the 22 players who started the 2014 opener against Atlanta were traded, cut or allowed to walk in free agency, part of a significant offseason roster purging. Director of college scouting Rick Reiprish and three assistant coaches were fired. More scouts were let go after the NFL draft...

Here's what Payton learned during his review of 2014 and how he's tried to address the issues this offseason:

Strategic player procurement

Before the draft, Saints officials studied their 2006 draft to see if they could identify reasons for its success. Six of the eight players selected that year are still playing today, including three – Marques Colston, Jahri Evans and Strief – with the Saints. NFL.com recently rated it the third-best draft class of the past decade.

"What are some of the common denominators: They're tough, they're smart, they love football, and I would describe those players as pretty much unselfish," Payton said. "Their personalities are different, but nearly all of them are playing in Year 10 because of those traits. That's a significant foundation."

...In some cases, it was addition by subtraction.

Brandon Deadrick, who was involved in an ugly mid-season locker room fight with teammates, was not re-signed.

Kenny Stills, a talented receiver with a sometimes laissez faire attitude, was dealt to Miami.

The team's leading tackler, Curtis Lofton, was cut after Payton said he refused to take a pay cut or acquiesce to other unspecified requests.

"Look, we're not going to bat .800 here," Payton said. "But as we're signing Kevin Williams or we're drafting (Hau'loi) Kikaha, there's a level of responsibility that we have to the locker room to get the right players with the right leadership to create that (winning) environment."

Seeding veteran leadership

...In some cases, injuries (Greer) and age (Smith, Vilma) were overriding factors. But all those years of experience and wisdom proved irreplaceable in position group meetings and the locker room.

"It was more impactful than at the moment we would have guessed," Payton said.

It wasn't by accident that the Saints signed or traded for a veteran at every position group except quarterback and tight end this offseason. Each was strategically targeted and seeded to assist the returning vets in leadership responsibilities.

"Leadership is more than just getting yourself ready or getting yourself in the right place. It's bringing everyone else along with you," said Strief, who quickly bonded with Unger after his arrival in town. "We didn't teach the things that were expected (of teammates), we just assumed that they would know. Because for a while, enough people already knew. Culture is taught, and I think we got away from that (last year)."

Melding the chemistry

When players arrived at the Saints facility for offseason workouts on April 20, they noticed something different in the locker room. A black and gold chain had been painted on the lower wall around the circumference of the room.

A chain also underlines the list of team goals that is posted in each player's locker.

Payton explained the symbolism to the players during a team meeting on Thursday.

"Those teams that we see at the end of the season (in the playoffs) are thicker, they're tight," Payton said. "They can count on each link being just as strong as the other and it's a close team."

By all accounts, the 2014 team wasn't as close as past Saints editions. To that end, Payton has encouraged players to pare their inner circles to only trustworthy friends and family.

"The amount of people in the chain is irrelevant," Strief said. "What's important is the test strength. We don't need to have 2,000 people in our chain or our inner circle. We need a tight group. We need to keep things in this locker room and make things as strong as we can."

Establishing a competitive culture

The chain wasn't the only motivational technique Payton employed. He also erected a green street sign on the apron of the practice field. As they exit the locker room, players have to walk along "N. Compete Street" to enter the practice field.

"Every one of us has been in a pickup basketball game where you're on a court and the winners stay and if you lose you're done," Payton said. "It's four deep on who's waiting, so there's a good chance if you lose that you're not going to play anymore, unless you want to stick around for an hour and a half. That last bucket in that pick-up game had to be earned. You think about how you compete at that moment because you don't want to be that guy that gives up the last shot

"When you get guys caring like that collectively then you've got something there."

The importance of winning early

An offseason study revealed the disastrous effects of a slow start. In the Saints' five winning seasons during the Payton era, they started 3-1, 4-0, 3-1, 3-1, and 4-0. In the four seasons when they finished .500 or below, they started 0-4, 2-2, 0-4 and 1-3.

"Sometimes culture is a chicken or the egg (thing)," Payton said. "If a team has early success, sometimes it leads to good culture. Winning early can do a lot for a team. Or if a team struggles early ... How do they handle the adversity."

Fixing the defense

Payton believes in Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly's maxim: "Culture trumps scheme." But he also knows the value of talent and a sound game plan. Both are critical to success.

To that end, he knows without a better defense the Saints aren't going anywhere -- no matter how positive their culture or intangibles are.

The trades of Stills, Jimmy Graham and Ben Grubbs brought the Saints Ellerbe and three draft picks, which were used to select middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, cornerback P.J. Williams and defensive tackle Tyeler Davison.

Veterans Browner, Spencer, Williams, Delvin Breaux, Kyle Wilson and Kenny Phillips were signed in free agency.

Dennis Allen, one of the most respected defensive coaches in the league, was hired to assist coordinator Rob Ryan in reducing and tweaking his scheme.

Payton studied the game film from Super Bowl XLIX and marveled at the defensive execution. The Patriots played almost exclusively in man-to-man coverage with a single high safety. Seattle employed a similar alignment but with zone coverage underneath safety Earl Thomas.

Payton said the Seahawks and Patriots used three or more receivers on 70 percent of the snaps. Despite this aerial onslaught, he counted a total of three missed defensive assignments.

"I like our personnel on the back end," Payton said. "We've got to find ways to let them play, without splitting the atom on every snap. Let's go. Let's get them lined up and let them play fast. That starts with me as a point of emphasis with Rob."

So far, Payton is happy with the offseason changes. He knows there's a long way to go and the true litmus test won't come until the heat of battle on Sundays or until the adversity of a two-game losing streak hits.

"This offseason and the direction we took was not renewing our vows, but more like, hey, let's pay attention to what we created and how fragile that can be because of free agency, because of injury, because of the way system is set up," Payton said. "Let's not lose track of what has given us a chance to be successful.

"Fear is a great motivator," Payton added. "The idea of not having success again this season ..."

Payton didn't complete his thought. He didn't have to.
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Old 06-21-2015, 05:36 PM   #2
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Re: Nola.com: A humbled, driven Sean Payton determined to not let 2014 happen again: Jeff Duncan

I'd like to know more about the Deadrick rumble; if anyone was injured as a result of it...
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Old 06-21-2015, 05:41 PM   #3
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Re: Nola.com: A humbled, driven Sean Payton determined to not let 2014 happen again: Jeff Duncan

Thanks for posting JP, this is by far the best article I've read in several weeks. Duncan is a jerk, but this article is outstanding.


"We certainly were among the leaders in bone-headed mistakes" - Sean Payton


"The best thing that ever happened to this organization was going 7-9 and not making the playoffs, If we would have slipped into the playoffs at 8-8 it would have been easy to say, 'Oh, we were right there. We were close.' ... No, we weren't. We were so far away."

"Leadership is more than just getting yourself ready or getting yourself in the right place. It's bringing everyone else along with you. We didn't teach the things that were expected (of teammates), we just assumed that they would know. Because for a while, enough people already knew. Culture is taught, and I think we got away from that (last year)."
- Zach Strief
Preach on team leaders!!! By the way, Strief will be an excellent coach one day, I have no doubt about it at all.

The team's leading tackler, Curtis Lofton, was cut after Payton said he refused to take a pay cut or acquiesce to other unspecified requests.
Whoa! Really? I'd never heard that.


It wasn't by accident that the Saints signed or traded for a veteran at every position group except quarterback and tight end this offseason. Each was strategically targeted and seeded to assist the returning vets in leadership responsibilities.
Hard to deny.


Dennis Allen, one of the most respected defensive coaches in the league, was hired to assist coordinator Rob Ryan in reducing and tweaking his scheme.

"I like our personnel on the back end," Payton said. "We've got to find ways to let them play, without splitting the atom on every snap. Let's go. Let's get them lined up and let them play fast. That starts with me as a point of emphasis with Rob."
Putting a leash on the mad scientist. It was needed. I have little to no doubt that this is Rob Ryan's last season as a Saint.
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Old 06-21-2015, 07:07 PM   #4
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Re: Nola.com: A humbled, driven Sean Payton determined to not let 2014 happen again: Jeff Duncan

Originally Posted by Danno View Post
By the way, Strief will be an excellent coach one day...
Thought the same thing, but didn't post as I didn't want to look too much like a homer who'd had too much coolaid...

Originally Posted by Danno View Post
Putting a leash on the mad scientist. It was needed. I have little to no doubt that this is Rob Ryan's last season as a Saint.
If Ryan leaves, it'll be his choice; I really believe that Payton sees potential in the guy, but that Ryan needs better organizational and communication skills...

...enter Dennis Allen...

Allen will be the true Quality/Control Coach In-house philosopher; with having been an NFL Head Coach, it should have sway in the coaches end of the locker room...

The additions of Ireland and Allen will be as significant additions to this organization as Browner or Unger...
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Last edited by jeanpierre; 06-21-2015 at 08:46 PM..
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Old 06-23-2015, 05:09 PM   #5
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Re: Nola.com: A humbled, driven Sean Payton determined to not let 2014 happen again: Jeff Duncan

[QUOTE=jeanpierre;658496]Thought the same thing, but didn't post as I didn't want to look too much like a homer who'd had too much coolaid...



If Ryan leaves, it'll be his choice; I really believe that Payton sees potential in the guy, but that Ryan needs better organizational and communication skills...

...enter Dennis Allen...

Allen will be the true Quality/Control Coach In-house philosopher; with having been an NFL Head Coach, it should have sway in the coaches end of the locker room...

The additions of Ireland and Allen will be as significant additions to this organization as Browner or Unger...[/QUOTE]

This!
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