Sean Payton not 'afraid of expectations' or stepping on toes

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just a couple weeks through training camp, Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton is comin' in hot under the summer sun. From publicly roasting the team’s former coaching staff to casting a critical eye on all parts of the organization, Payton has unabashedly put forth his “vision’’ to change the Broncos' playoff fortunes.

And this is just two weeks in.

“That’s what you want out of your leader,’’ Broncos outside linebacker Frank Clark said. “At the end of the day, coach Payton [is] re-instilling that type of ball.’’

The Broncos haven’t played in a postseason game since their Super Bowl 50 win to close out the 2015 season. They are currently in their longest playoff drought since Jimmy Carter was in the White House and their offense has been a consistent anchor to the team’s efforts over the last seven years, having finished 28th or worse in scoring in three of the last four years alone.

It's why owner/CEO Greg Penner spent big to hire Payton and in turn let Payton spend big to round out his staff -- some of his new assistants and new player health and performance staff rank at the top of the league’s pay scale. And at every turn, Payton has channeled one of his chief mentors -- Hall of Famer Bill Parcells -- with a no-nonsense approach.

Many players use the word “transparent’’ when discussing how Payton has critiqued their efforts. At one point during the offseason program, Payton used a big screen in the team meeting room to list criteria his coaching staff would be using to evaluate players.

He's even said he would be angry if this Broncos team wasn’t in the postseason when the new year arrives.

“I’m not afraid of the expectations,’’ Payton said. “ … That mindset needs to be present here, I see this as a team that has that ability, it’s our job to bring it out of them.’’

Unlike his 15-year stint with the New Orleans Saints when he was the first in franchise history to get the team a Super Bowl appearance and win, Payton is now with a franchise that won three Super Bowls and had a three-decade run with more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons.

It's why he raised more than a few eyebrows across the NFL as well as in his own building with his recent interview with USA Today when he not only called Nathaniel Hackett’s 15-game tenure as head coach last season “one of the worst coaching jobs in NFL history,’’ in an attempt to support quarterback Russell Wilson. Payton also lumped in current team employees like general manager George Paton, team president Damani Leech and the team’s media relations staff as part of the litany of problems last season.

Payton later apologized, saying he had “regret’’ for the comments and that Paton and the team’s front office were two of the biggest reasons he accepted the job. But one Broncos employee, requesting anonymity, said “some people were surprised at that, not happy, people are giving him their best, working their asses off and this organization has done an awful lot right for a long time, more than most.’’

Payton has also ferociously taken on the league’s policy on gambling, saying "shame on us,'' about the punishments the league has handed out in recent months, even as the Broncos had defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike suspended for at least a year for betting on NFL games in 2022. He also spurred New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers to call him “insecure’’ for his criticism of Hackett.

But if training camp thus far is any indication, Broncos players publicly endorse Payton's bring-it-on approach, especially when Payton told USA Today he would be “pissed’’ if the Broncos did not make the playoffs this season.

“That’s a statement that we all know that we all want to do,’’ Wilson said. “Anything not first is second, or last in my opinion. ... He’s a legend in this game and we trust everything he feels about it.’’

“One thousand percent,’’ wide receiver Courtland Sutton has said. “I hate to be up here and have to reiterate something that we’ve talked about the last couple years, us not taking care of business the past season … I think the guys who have been a part of the past seasons understand the sense of urgency we have to have. Coach has come in and let it be known the main thing is the main thing.’’

Payton has made it clear he and his staff will have a set of expectations. Those who don’t meet Payton's standards will likely not last long.

He also intends to look to upgrade the roster at all times. While most coaches often say that, Payton has included the addendum, including after practice this past week, the players shouldn’t think they’re only competing against the other Broncos they see in their position groups, but against all of their counterparts in the league. The Broncos are expected to be one of the more potentially active teams when rosters for from 90 to 53 just before the start of the regular season.

“I think it’s great that he has strong convictions and views,’’ Penner said. “It comes from years of experience. He has a lot of emotion and cares passionately about this team and what we’re building. His heart is in the right place and his intentions are right. Again, he started with, ‘We are going to raise the bar,’ and I think that’s what we needed with this team and organization.’’