IRVING, Texas – Sean Payton made his bones as a playcaller early on in his time as the New Orleans Saints’ head coach. Before this season, Jason Garrett had called every play for the Dallas Cowboys since 2007.
When these coaches and good friends meet Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Payton will be calling the plays, while Garrett will be overseeing the Cowboys’ offense but not directly communicating with quarterback Tony Romo.
Payton and Garrett have had role reversals of sorts.
In 2011 Payton was forced to give it up after suffering a serious knee injury on the sideline during a game. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael took over with Payton injured, and the Saints scored 62 points in their first game.
“So I told Pete that might be a good one to end on,” Payton said. “He did a great job for us in  and a great job for us last year. He’s very in tune to what we’re doing daily. He’s a big reason why we’ve had the success we’ve had here offensively, and someone [who] will and during the course of any game call plays for us. [He] puts together all the practice plans and really is very involved in our game-planning. I think more importantly about the details of the execution philosophically, the way you want to approach each week, those things become more important.”
Carmichael called the plays last season with Payton serving a one-year suspension, but Payton is back to calling the plays for the Saints.
As good as Payton is as a playcaller, quarterback Drew Brees said the Saints missed Payton the head coach more.
“You forget all the things that are required of the head coach to be responsible for,” Brees said. “Some are more involved than others. But Sean Payton is a very hands-on coach that kind of has his hands in everything and feels responsible for everything. I think we missed him most in other areas, not necessarily just play calling.”
Depending on the story, Garrett this year either had the play-calling duties taken away from him by owner and general manager Jerry Jones or was willing to allow offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to call the plays.
Garrett remains involved in the process, but he has let Callahan run the show with Romo. The Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in points per game (28.6) but 17th in yards per game (342.8). Since a 48-point performance against Denver it has been a struggle for the offense.
But Garrett has remained an observer.
“I think it’s been a good thing,” Garrett said of the play-calling switch. “It’s something that we’ve tried to do since I became the head coach, coming from the coordinator position. They’re two full-time jobs, and in order to do each of them well, you have to focus on really every aspect of them. There are only so many hours in the day, so since I became the head coach, I was always trying to delegate some of the responsibilities I had within the coordinator position and within some of the head-coaching responsibilities that I had. So now I can be more focused on some of the head-coaching stuff.
"Certainly I’m in all of the meetings on offense and many of the meetings on defense during the week. With the installations of the plays, I’m involved in all that. But you need to delegate and more importantly empower the people around you to do those jobs. We’ve done that. I think that structure has worked well for us. That doesn’t mean that because we’re in that structure, everything is going to be perfect. We need to keep working hard to make whatever structure we use the best it can be for our players to execute ball plays.”