Just before the Saints officially turn the page on last season — training camp is about one month away — head coach Sean Payton is releasing his first book.
"Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life," which lands in stores June 29, gives readers an inside and in-depth look at Payton's early life and rise through the coaching ranks before joining the Saints in 2006. He recounts the struggles the organization and those who lived in and around the city overcame as they began to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Of the book's 36 chapters, the final 14 are devoted to the 2009 campaign and the Super Bowl.
PFW spoke with Payton on the phone Monday to discuss the book, offseason personnel changes and the allegations made by former Saints security director Geoffrey Santini, who, in a lawsuit against the Saints, alleged that GM Mickey Loomis tried to cover up Payton's and assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt's illegal use of Vicodin.
PFW: Was it an easy decision to write the book?
Payton: At first it seemed easy. You get approached in the process late in the playoffs. I think when you're approached and someone says 'In the event you win a Super Bowl, are you interested?' At that time your mind is so many other places that it's easy to say 'Hey, that's fine.' In other words, you're thinking of the hypothetical. After the event itself and you begin to settle in, you understand that it does take some time. So I was somewhat skeptical in the beginning and then with the uniqueness of what took place in the really short period of four years, it was easy to come up with the content.
PFW: While reading the book, it became clear that you decided to do something more expansive than the average book on coaching. What was your vision for the book from the outset and did it change at all as you were writing it?
Payton: I guess I didn't want the stereotypical "winning on the field, winning off the field" (book). We just wanted it to be really a four-year story of 'Hey, this is what happened and it's pretty interesting.' Following Katrina, much like an upstart company, just getting relocated back to New Orleans and trying to put together a staff and a team with a lot that had gone on. It made it easy to come up with the various chapters. I think most importantly we wanted it to transcend. Not just sports fans, but people that really wanted to read it. My sister-in-law just finished it and she's my biggest critic sometimes, but her response was perfect and I felt really good about how she responded. It touched her, she laughed, she was surprised, she thought things came up that were interesting.
PFW: You're brutally honest in some parts and use some rough language on occasion. How difficult was the process of sorting out what to include and what to keep private?
Payton: I didn't want it to come across as a book with a lot of coach's clichés. So, at times, maybe that can be somewhat offensive, but it really is just the truth. I think more importantly than anything else, we just tried to review it, look at it, say 'OK, this is exactly what took place.' I wanted to make sure the emotion was captured with each unique event or story.
PFW: Were there any misconceptions about you or the team that you really had a burning desire to set straight in this book?
Payton: No, not at all. There was no motivation to write the book to try to … there was no record to set straight. We just finished winning a championship and we did it with a great group of guys. That makes it special. Once you get into it, you realize that it does take more time and energy than you initially thought. You do have to, all of a sudden, get really engrossed in it and that's hard to do with a short offseason. It's hard to do with young kids, but it was something we felt our fan base could connect with, and more than just the Saints' fan base.
PFW: One of the highlights from the book and something that has been talked about a lot already is when you did the Bill Belichick impression video for the team before playing the Patriots last season. Have you heard from Belichick about the impression? Did he ask to hear you do it?
Payton: No, it was just a unique way of trying to be critical of our team. Every Wednesday we come in and talk about "here's what we need to improve on." So picture the "here's what we need to improve on" meeting, but instead it's going to be the opposition pointing out our flaws, starting with myself. I threw in offense, defense and the kicking game and was just trying to talk about some of our weaknesses and it was a little bit of a unique way to hear from, technically, not me.
PFW: You admit to doubting and second-guessing yourself in certain situations in the book. The situation when Scott Fujita gets hurt during the team trip to a water park that you set up is one example. Yet, you come off as such a confident person when you're interviewed. Another writer, who recently wrote an article about "Home Team," wrote that the media portrays you as arrogant sometimes. Do you care what people think of you or how the media describes you?
Payton: I think you work hard at a reputation. I think that's something that I'm proud of and I do pay attention to that. It's something that, over the years, I've been able to establish. I haven't read (the article you're referring to) but I think certain times I'm definitely guarded with the media in regards to our team. Yet, a project like this is entirely different. As I sit here at ESPN for the better part of a day, it's different. But I understand that from a competitive standpoint that what benefits the media doesn't always benefit the club. So, it's just having that balance.
PFW: You write about getting advice from Bill Parcells — one chapter is even called "Professor Parcells." Have you received or sought advice from him and other coaches about how to keep a team hungry after winning a Super Bowl?
Payton: I think first off, one of Bill's greatest strengths is the human element to our game. He's got a great way of understanding that mechanism of motivation and what keeps people going. He certainly is someone that I was fortunate enough to have a chance to work with and I'm able to write about that or at least express my feelings in regards to some of the special, unique traits that he has. I've had a chance, to answer your initial question, during the offseason to visit with coaches like Bill that have had success and how they approach the next year. Obviously you don't pick up from where you just left off. It starts anew and the path begins again. It becomes that much more challenging and yet, I think there's a competitive spirit to all of us.
PFW: When you look at the team a year ago before the Super Bowl run, and the team now, what are the big differences you see?
Payton: There is turnover. Every year you get that. I think we're younger right now. What I mean by that is we have some players that we've had for a short period of time that are making real good contributions or are going to be making big contributions as we head into this season. I think certainly we're confident in having had success and playing in that type of game (the Super Bowl) in that venue. Something goes with that. It really, most importantly, validates the process. It validates that the stuff we're doing is good and the hard work you're putting in and the way we're preparing pays off. I think in any industry the one part about success is it can certainly validate the challenge and how you approach it.
PFW: Did you feel like you needed to get younger this offseason?
Payton: I think you're constantly paying attention to your club. There was no goal to go out and say 'Hey, we're going to be younger.' I think you evaluate, you make decisions, and a lot of those decisions are tough ones. (V.P. and GM) Mickey Loomis and our personnel department, myself and the coaching staff, throughout the years in this short period of time, I think the key is making sure that we're improving as a club. We continue to try to bring in highly motivated players that want to improve and that value the team first — all those things that we've identified as our core beliefs.
PFW: I read your statement in reaction to the allegations about Vicodin use made by Geoffrey Santini, so I already know (you have denied abusing or stealing Vicodin). Is angry the best way to describe your initial reaction to the allegations?
Payton: You get angry and you get frustrated. There's a part of you that makes you really want to come out and answer every (allegation) and that's why the simple statement in the beginning was the best response. The final closure has yet to be written and I know I look forward to that opportunity.
PFW: Do you think where you are — holding one of the most prominent positions in the league — had anything to do with the allegations?
Payton: I think winning and having success has a lot do with that.
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