METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton never actually left, but his hourlong news conference on Wednesday felt like a triumphant return.
Payton seemed energized, excited and heartfelt while professing his commitment to the New Orleans Saints and love for the city (complete with the potholes and the boil-water mandates). He even admitted to feeling “nervous,” like he was when first introduced as the Saints’ head coach in 2006.
Meanwhile, owners Tom Benson and Gayle Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis and president Dennis Lauscha lined up at the side of the room to watch Payton speak. That is not typical for Payton’s end-of-season press conferences.
Payton never acknowledged that he considered the possibility of leaving for another team, despite reports of several franchises expressing interest in him. Perhaps the right job never came available. Perhaps no other job could have ultimately swayed him away from the Saints.
Regardless, Payton certainly seems all-in now -- which is the best possible result for the Saints after this monthslong drama.
If Payton needed to do some soul-searching or he and Loomis needed to hash out some serious concerns over the direction of the franchise over these past three days, then those could be good things should they have led to Payton becoming so recommitted.
“I think that honestly ... there’s more moments, there’s more wins, there’s more playoffs,” Payton said. “I promise you there will be.”
Here are four more takeaways from Payton’s decision and his news conference:
December wins weren’t meaningless: Payton talked excitedly about the way the Saints (7-9) finished the 2015 season with wins in three of their last four games. He was particularly excited about their strong performance in last Sunday’s 20-17 victory at Atlanta, despite a slew of injuries.
That lent some credence to the claims that New Orleans’ final four games weren’t meaningless, even though they had no playoff implications. Did that alone keep Payton from leaving? Probably not, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
The Saints had higher expectations this season, but Payton seemed genuinely energized by the way the young team started to get things pointed back in the right direction after they overhauled half the roster and began rebuilding the base with 11 rookies to start the season.
Payton said he was much more discouraged one year ago at this time, when the team realized its culture had started to slip away for the first time in Payton's tenure as head coach.
“I know this in the conversations that we’ve had the last two days: Man, it’s nice to be coaching guys that represent your organization the way our players do,” Payton said. “It fires you up to come to work.”
Still more work to do: Payton was asked about how his mentor, Bill Parcells, used to change jobs frequently, believing that it was better to leave too early than too late. Payton said he and Parcells are different in some ways, but he added that in a case like this, where Payton decided to stick around after two losing seasons, Parcells’ first question would be, “Well then, how you getting it fixed?”
“It’s a good question, and that’s what we’re going to figure out,” Payton said.
Payton said he and Loomis talked about many areas the Saints need to focus on improving, including their success rate in the draft and free agency.
The No. 1 issue, however, is figuring out, as Payton said, “How do we improve this defense? And where do we feel like the positions are that we need to focus on?”
The Saints made changes to their defensive coaching staff, scheme and personnel last season and still finished 31st in yards allowed, all while setting NFL records for most touchdown passes allowed and highest opponents’ passer rating. Payton said he does expect to retain defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who took over after Rob Ryan was fired in November, but that hasn’t been decided yet.
Relationship with Loomis: Some of the reports surrounding Payton’s decision suggested he might seek a change with the management structure, with Loomis serving as both Saints general manager and executive vice president of the New Orleans Pelicans. But Payton insisted there will be no changes in the power structure, and he isn’t seeking any.
He said his relationship with Loomis is strong, both professionally and personally.
“Me and Mickey each like to win an argument. But we both have an ability to look at what’s best. I think that’s what’s made it a great job,” Payton said. He added that the stability of that power structure -- including ownership -- “gives us a great chance at functional success.”
Payton said a lot of teams don’t have that dynamic, which leaves them spinning in circles.
He would rather talk about Gatorade: Payton even poked fun a few times at how tight-lipped he can be with the media sometimes. He said this was not the kind of press conference he wanted to be having during the first week of the playoffs. He wistfully referenced the major story line from this time two years ago -- when the Saints were preparing to head to Philadelphia for a wild-card game, and he mocked all the questions about trying to win on the road by changing things like the Gatorade flavors and travel sweats.
“I’d love this press conference to be about an upcoming an opponent and whether we can win in cold weather or we’re gonna change the type of Gatorade,” Payton said. “Those are a lot more fun.”