Sean Payton stumps for an NFL team to go get Stanford coach David Shaw

John Sigler
·4 min read

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton is very sensitive to the NFL’s problem with diversity in hiring. While the league’s player pool is largely populated by people of color, team coaching staffs and front offices don’t reflect that. Payton spoke about the issue with hosts Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter on the Huddle and Flow podcast, pointing to biases in ownership and hiring trends that leave qualified candidates on the outside looking in.

“It’s a topic that’s disturbing, for a number of reasons,” Payton said. “It’s an ownership topic, number one. It’s a general manager topic, number two. And so often in our league, because the money is good, those in positions of power want to increase their longevity — it becomes their number one objective, to survive longer and longer.”

He suggested that those general managers hiring the head coaches tend to go with safe, no-fuss candidates, who may not be the best options, but they won’t upset ownership and jeopardize their own job security. And that leads to a biased cycle of the same retreads (few of whom are people of color) going from one team to the next.

Payton shifted gears and pointed to one Black coach he wants to see in the NFL ranks: Stanford Cardinal coach David Shaw. He continued: “My challenge always is this, and I use an example all the time. I worked with David Shaw in Philadelphia (with the Eagles), I think he’s an extremely bright candidate. Stanford graduate, he coaches at his alma mater. Every time I bring his name up, everyone says ‘David’s staying in college.’ And I understand that.”

Shaw, 48, has gone 89-36 as a head coach for Stanford since accepting the job in 2011. He’s maintained a West Coast powerhouse in the Pac-12, winning the conference three times and earning Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year recognition in 2017. The fact that he’s surpassed Pop Warner (yes, that Pop Warner) for the most wins in Stanford football history is a footnote says all you really need to know about his qualifications.

So it’s frustrating for Payton to see greater efforts made to recruit college coaches into the NFL who don’t quite match Shaw’s resume.

He said, “But you know, Steve Spurrier was staying in college. And Nick Saban was staying in college. And there have been a number of college coaches staying in college. And at some point someone says, ‘No you’re coming here, because we’re gonna make you take this job with this amount of money.’ You follow me? Matt Rhule was staying in college, had two teams (recruiting him).”

The Carolina Panthers won a bidding war with the New York Giants for Rhule’s services after he went 47-43 as a head coach at Temple (from 2013 to 2016) and at Baylor (in 2017 to 2019), with the 2016 AAC championship to his credit. Now he’s coaching against Payton twice a year in the NFC South.

Payton rattled off Shaw’s achievements: “Why is it that a young, talented coach, Stanford graduate, West Coast Offense, offensive guy; and I always begin with David because I know him, I know how talented he is. Now he may turn down all of those opportunities. But you know what, he didn’t have those opportunities where someone said, ‘We have to have him.’ Because someone said ‘We have to have Nick, or Steve, or Matt.'”

Shaw isn’t the only Black college coach Payton wants to see in the NFL. He also pointed to Lovie Smith, the former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach who, Payton noted, fell on his sword in a Week 17 loss to the Saints to secure the first overall draft pick later used to select Jameis Winston. And he admitted there are many other qualified candidates out there he simply isn’t aware of himself.

But that doesn’t excuse NFL owners’ reluctance to hire more people of color to prominent decisions. Payton recounted one exchange at a league meeting when an owner handwaved the issue as, “There weren’t any good candidates in this cycle,” to which Payton “had to call B.S.,” and shake his head.

It’s a bold rebuttal to make. But as Payton pointed out later in the interview, it’s something he’s allowed to get away with because he’s winning games. Winning means a lot in the NFL, and it gives outspoken voices like his some leeway. But so far, it hasn’t meant enough for quality coaches like Shaw to get their due.

Related

Report: Falcons to interview Saints exec Terry Fontenot for G.M. opening

List

Saints vs. Chiefs: 6 players resting on first Week 15 injury report

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Tampa Bay
+140+3O 51.5
New Orleans
-167-3U 51.5