If you don't remember, it may come as a serious surprise to know that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, justifiably regarded by many as the best play-caller in the league these days, was demoted from those very same duties when he served under Jim Fassel as the New York Giants' offensive coordinator. After two years as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach, Payton was hired by the Giants before the 1999 season to do the same for them.
After a season, he was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he held from 2000 through 2002. Under Payton's tutelage, Kerry Collins(notes) threw for three of his four best single-season yardage totals, including his only 4,000-yard season in 2002. However, scoring and red zone efficiency were issues -- the G-Men ranked ninth in yards but 21st in points in 2001, and sixth in yards but 22nd in points in 2002.
As the New York Times reported it, Fassel took play-calling duties away from Payton in late October, 2002:
''I will make any changes necessary, within the limits of knowing we're not in training camp now,'' Fassel said. ''I'm not going to sit still and watch us average one touchdown per game. I'm not going to do it ... When something needs to be done, when we need to shake things up, I will make a change.''
Payton, whose mother had passed away two weeks before his demotion, was nonplussed and unimpressed.
"I don't know that play-calling is the reason we're 3-4, let's just say that ... there are certain people whose heads are on a different plane than others. It's always been a head coach, a coordinator, a quarterback. That's part of the deal, and that's part of the responsibility to these positions. I take full responsibility for what we've done on offense. From there, we'll see what happens. He's the head coach. Ultimately, he's in charge. I'm sure he'll do what's best for this team.''
Payton went to Dallas after the 2002 season, and the Giants plummeted from 10-6 to 4-12 without him. Fassel was gone after the 2003 season. Under Bill Parcells in Dallas, Payton stumped for a little-known undrafted quarterback by the name of Tony Romo(notes), and helped rebuild Dallas' offense with three primary quarterbacks -- Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde(notes), and Drew Bledsoe(notes). By the time Romo was ready to take over the offense, Payton had departed for New Orleans, and an unimaginably bright future.
Sometimes, talent is tough to spot. And sometimes, head coaches make personnel decisions based on their own job security. Fassel's career was never the same after he demoted Payton -- he was last seen writing love letters to Al Davis and coaching in the UFL. Saints fans certainly wouldn't have it any other way, but one wonders what would have happened with Fassel's career had he stuck by one very talented young offensive mind...