Rumors of Payton to Dallas not squashed

One year ago today New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton woke up cradling the Vince Lombardi Trophy, went to a press conference and reiterated how much winning the Super Bowl meant because of the symbiotic relationship between rebuilt team and rebuilding city.

Soon after he released a best-selling book, “Home Team,” that chronicled his love for and inspiration he drew from the Gulf Coast as he powered the Saints to the championship.

Then along came Monday when word leaked via ESPN’s Ed Werder that Payton was moving his family out of Louisiana and to the tony Dallas suburb of Westlake. They will now maintain two residences, according to the Times-Picayune.

The Saints say coach Sean Payton is staying with New Orleans, but does moving his family imply otherwise?
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

How often Payton will actually go to Texas isn’t known. Anything more than during the bye week would raise questions. During the season, coaches don’t take hours – let alone days – off.

It’s what makes the move both understandable and inexplicable at the same time.

The most germane question is: How will the Saints players react? Will they see a coach now free of family obligations and wholly focused on football while he’s around them? Or will the back-and-forth jetting distance Payton from them, causing them to look at the soon-to-be sixth-year coach and wonder whether or not he’s in it for the long haul?

Coaches loathe distractions. They fight to avoid even the subtle signs of decreased commitment, authority and accountability.

That’s the risk here. So, too, is the inevitable speculation that he’s on his way to working for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has far deeper pockets – not to mention a willingness to dip into them – than Saints ownership.

Payton is a former Cowboys assistant coach and a desirable commodity in the NFL whether he works on the sidelines or the front office. Dallas is breaking in a rookie head coach in Jason Garrett, and the organization is managed, not particularly well, by Jones himself.

Rumors of Payton to Dallas (professionally, not physically) had swept through the Super Bowl rumor mill this past weekend. It forced the Saints to issue a statement declaring, “Sean Payton is the coach of the New Orleans Saints. He will not be going to the Dallas Cowboys in any capacity.”

Sure, for now.

If Garrett struggles, or the Cowboys continue to make so many poor personnel decisions that even Jones realizes he needs a true football mind in the GM role, then Payton is the obvious candidate for either or both positions.

He may have been anyway, but uprooting the family to the Cowboys’ neighborhood just adds to the perceived inevitability. It’s one less hurdle to switching jobs.

Payton’s wife and two children – a daughter born in 1996 and a son born in 1999 – will be settled into the community and school. ESPN said the Paytons have always considered retiring in North Texas. Sean is rich enough to contemplate not working, but he’s also just 47. He was very good last week as a guest analyst on ESPN, but few think he’s ready to walk away from competitive football forever.

Payton won’t be the first coach to live away from his family. At best these guys are absentee husbands and fathers, especially during the season. Many sleep in their offices and when they do go home, it’s long after the kids are asleep. They then head back to work before anyone is awake.

In a transient business, others just leave the wife and kids behind and rent efficiency apartments during the season. It’s part of the job.

Doc Rivers has coached – quite successfully – the Boston Celtics since 2004. His family never left Orlando, where his old job had rooted them. Tony Dungy coached the Indianapolis Colts while his family remained in the Tampa area. Those are different dynamics, though, the living arrangement understood upon hiring. This is a bit unusual, a mid-tenure switch.

Payton is the typical, maniacal, workaholic that the NFL demands. No one is questioning his work ethic (nor will they).

So if the wife and kids are happy in Dallas, then what’s the difference?

That’s what he’ll have to first explain, and then prove, to his players. Many Saints fans also will be wondering. Moving the family is one thing. Moving them to Dallas, home to the hated Cowboys, is another.

In the end, the devil will be in the logistics and, in turn, the wins column.

This can be a competitive positive, allowing even greater focus on winning football games. Whatever guilt there is about getting home at a reasonable hour is gone. It’s truly 24/7 football now, at least as long as he isn’t flying to Dallas during the season.

The possibilities remain great for the Saints, which is why it would be ridiculous to suggest Payton is giving up on his current deal. Yes, New Orleans is coming off a dispiriting playoff loss to the lowly Seattle Seahawks, but Super Bowl champions rarely succeed the following year. In the last 11 seasons just one team (the 2005 New England Patriots) reached even the conference championship game.

The potential to win next year’s Super Bowl is there. Drew Brees(notes) is back. The running game should return to health. The magic of the Superdome should roar on.

In a league as competitive as the NFL, though, you step out of the status-quo box and half the league starts buzzing.

Sean Payton did that by making a family decision in a business that rarely cares about actual family.

Continued winning will be the only acceptable solution. Of course, in the NFL, that’s always the case.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Feb 7, 2011