|Born:||December 29, 1963|
San Mateo, California
|Height:||5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)|
|Weight:||200 lb (91 kg)|
|High school:||Naperville Central (Naperville, Illinois)|
|As a player:|
|As a coach:|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career NFL statistics|
|Career Arena statistics|
|Head coaching record|
|Regular season:||152–89 (.631)|
|Player stats at NFL.com · PFR · ArenaFan.com|
|Coaching stats at PFR|
Sean Patrick Payton (born December 29, 1963) is a former American football player and coach. He served as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League (NFL) from 2006 to 2021, leading the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory during the 2009 season. Payton was a quarterback at Naperville Central High School and Eastern Illinois University and played professionally in 1987 with the Chicago Bears and 1988 overseas in Britain for the Leicester Panthers.
He began his coaching career as offensive assistant for San Diego State University and had several assistant coaching positions on college and NFL teams before being named as the tenth full-time coach in Saints history in 2006. Payton has always been known for his offensive prowess, having scored more points (2,804) and gained more yards (40,158) than any other team in a coach's first 100 games in NFL history. Payton had the second-longest NFL single-team tenure among active head coaches, behind New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who has coached the Patriots since the 2000 season.
Under Payton's leadership, the Saints made the 2006 NFL playoffs after a 3–13 season in 2005 and advanced to their first NFC Championship appearance in franchise history. Because of this effort, Payton won the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award. Following the 2009 season, the Saints won their first Super Bowl championship in franchise history. In 16 seasons with the Saints as head coach, Payton helped guide the team to three NFC Championship games (2006, 2009, and 2018), a victory in Super Bowl XLIV, and nine total playoff berths with seven division titles, making him the most successful coach in Saints franchise history.
In April 2012, Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 NFL season as a result of his involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, under which "bounties" were allegedly paid for contact that would try to injure players on opposing teams. Payton filed an appeal, but was denied, with him remaining suspended until being reinstated in January 2013.
Payton was born in San Mateo, California, and raised in Naperville, Illinois, by parents Thomas and Jeanne Payton. Payton's parents were originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania; Thomas worked in the insurance industry. Sean Payton lived in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, during his grade school and middle school years (1970–1978). Sean attended Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Illinois, starting as quarterback his senior year before graduating in 1982. Winning a football scholarship, Payton had a successful career playing quarterback at Eastern Illinois University, leading the Panthers to an 11–2 record and the quarter-finals of the Division I-AA Playoffs in 1986; while at EIU, he became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity with his close friend, Rick Henghold. Under coach Al Molde, Payton's Eastern Illinois teams were known as "Eastern Airlines" due to their prolific passing attack that frequently topped 300 yards per game (and had 509 passing yards in one game, still a school record).
Although he was not drafted in the 1987 NFL Draft, Payton tried out for the Kansas City Chiefs for one day. In 1987, he played quarterback for the Chicago Bruisers and Pittsburgh Gladiators during the inaugural season of the Arena Football League, before his rights were sold for $1,000.00 to the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League. He was also a member of the Chicago Bears squad of strikebreaking replacement players, known as the "Spare Bears", during the 1987 NFL players strike. In 3 games he completed 8 of 23 passes (34.8%), for 79 yards, no TDs, and 1 INT, a passer rating of 27.3. He was also sacked 7 times for 47 yards and had one rush attempt for 28 yards. His one interception came against the New Orleans Saints, the team he would later go on to coach to a Super Bowl victory.
In 1988, he played for the Leicester Panthers of the professional UK Budweiser National League. Payton landed the starting quarterback role for the Panthers. Payton led the Panthers to a touchdown on their first possession. That same season saw the Panthers go to the Quarterfinals of the British League, eventually losing to the London Olympians. After Payton returned to the US to take up a coaching position.
Payton began his coaching career in 1988 as an offensive assistant at San Diego State University. He made a series of assistant coaching positions at Indiana State University, Miami University (offensive coordinator), Illinois, and again at San Diego State (running backs coach), before landing a job as the quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997.
He coached Marshall Faulk from 1992 to 1993 while working at San Diego State.
As OC at Miami University, he helped RB Deland McCullough run for over 1,100 yards. In 1995, the team scored the most points in a season (326) since 1986 and finished 8–2–1. RB Deland McCullough ran for over 1,600 yards with 14 TD and QB Sam Ricketts also threw 14 TD.
At the University of Illinois in 1996, he coached QB Scott Weaver, who completed 56% of his passes for over 1,700 yards and 7 TD.
From 1997 to 1998, Payton was quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles and worked with offensive coordinator Jon Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Callahan. In 1998, Gruden and Callahan left for the Oakland Raiders, and Eagles head coach Ray Rhodes and Payton were fired. The Eagles' quarterbacks passed for 4,009 yards in 1997. Payton would not be retained by new head coach Andy Reid.
In 1999, Payton was hired as the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants and was promoted to the role of offensive coordinator in 2000. Under his guidance, the Giants would go on to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXXV. During this time, he was known to lock himself in the stadium and sleep on the couches while studying plays during off-days.
At around 6:45 a.m. on September 11, 2001, the New York Giants' flight from Denver, where the Giants played the Denver Broncos for the first Monday Night Football game of 2001, landed at the gate of Newark Liberty International Airport next to United Airlines Flight 93, the flight that was hijacked and eventually crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Payton recalls this moment in his autobiography Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life. During the 2002 season, after several poor showings by the Giants' offense, Payton's role in play-calling was taken over by then head coach Jim Fassel. Under Fassel the offense improved and propelled the team to a wild-card playoff berth.
Payton joined Bill Parcells and the Cowboys as an assistant head coach and a quarterbacks coach in 2003. He guided three different quarterbacks (Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, and Drew Bledsoe) to 3,000-yard passing seasons, while contributing to improve the passing offense from a 31st rank to 15th in the league. He also has been attributed as the primary factor for the team signing undrafted free agent Tony Romo in 2003.
In 2004, he became a sought-after assistant in the league, so the Cowboys gave him a pay raise to remain as their assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. In 2005, he was promoted by Parcells to assistant head coach/passing game coordinator.
Payton began his first head coaching assignment in 2006, with the New Orleans Saints. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, during the 2005 season the Saints had finished with a 3–13 record, ranking as the second worst team in the league. However, Payton turned the struggling team around, and, with newly acquired free agent quarterback Drew Brees, led them to their first playoff appearance in six years. The team had one of the league's most productive offenses, ranking first in passing, and fifth in points scored. The Saints won the NFC South with a 10–6 record, earned a first round playoff bye and notched only the second playoff win in franchise history, giving them a berth in the NFC Championship Game against the top-seeded Chicago Bears. The Saints out-gained the Bears in total yards on offense, but lost the game by the lopsided score of 39–14. Receiving 44 out of 50 votes from a panel of sports journalists and broadcasters, Payton won the AP NFL Coach of the Year Award in January 2007.
In the 2007 season, the Saints tried to improve upon their 10–6 record from the previous season. They and the Pittsburgh Steelers opened the NFL preseason, playing the Hall of Fame Game on August 5, 2007. The Saints were 3–2 in the pre-season. The Saints also had the honor of opening the season against the defending champion Indianapolis Colts. The Saints finished the 2007 season 7–9.
In 2009, Payton coached the Saints to their most successful season, with a 13–3 mark. They won their playoff games and went to the Super Bowl, in which Tracy Porter intercepted Peyton Manning during the fourth quarter and returned the pick for a touchdown, securing a 31–17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, the team’s first Super Bowl win.
In June 2010, Payton published a book (written with journalist Ellis Henican) entitled Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life. The book opened at number 8 on the non-fiction bestseller list of The New York Times. Payton described the concept of Home Team: "I didn't want to write another winning-on-the-field book or about modern-day leadership...I wanted to write a book about the stories, ones that you sit around and tell your friends."
On October 16, 2011, while coaching against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Payton broke his tibia and tore his MCL in a collision with tight end Jimmy Graham's helmet after Graham was tackled on the sideline. Unable to stand on the sidelines, Payton coached from the booth during rehabilitation. In a memorable moment the week after, Payton was spotted eating a hot dog in a relaxed state while the Saints blew out the Indianapolis Colts 62–7.
Payton agreed to a new multi-year contract extension as head coach of the Saints, beginning in 2013. On January 6, 2016, he announced that he would stay with the Saints despite interest from other teams that had led to speculation that he would be traded.
Payton agreed to a new five-year contract extension as head coach of the Saints on March 23, 2016. On Christmas Eve 2016, Payton notched his 94th victory as Saints head coach, passing Jim E. Mora as the winningest coach in franchise history.
Payton and the Saints would endure some eventful seasons over the next three years.
The 2017 season would see the Saints achieve their first winning season since 2013 with an 11–5 record. In the Wild Card round of the postseason, New Orleans defeated the division rival Carolina Panthers 31–26 to advance to the Divisional round against the second-seeded Minnesota Vikings. Against the Vikings, after falling behind 17–0, the Saints were able to crawl back and hold a 24–23 advantage in the final minute of the fourth quarter. On the last play of the game, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum threw a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who evaded Saints safety Marcus Williams and ran to the end zone to complete a 61-yard touchdown pass as time expired to award Minnesota a 29–24 victory. This game was the first in NFL playoff history to end in a touchdown as time expired. The play would later be known as the Minneapolis Miracle.
In the 2018 season, the Saints attained the top-seed in the NFC after finishing with a 13–3 record. Upon eliminating the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles 20–14 in the Divisional round, the team advanced to the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams for the right to represent the conference in Super Bowl LIII. The game was marred with controversy after the referees missed a pass interference call of Nickell Robey-Coleman's hit on Tommylee Lewis on 3rd-and-10 with 1:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Saints would go on to lose 26–23 in overtime. Some fans, players, and analysts believe the missed call is among the worst in NFL history. The NFL admitted to missing the call soon after the game was over, but did not apologize for the situation until a week and a half later. They also did not overturn the result of the game. The fallout from the missed call was a factor in the NFL's decision to expand instant replay, making pass interference (including non-calls) reviewable. However, that ability to change PI calls would not last past the 2019 season.
On September 15, 2019, the Saints and Payton agreed to a five-year contract extension. The Saints once again finished 13–3 in 2019. However, they would be upset in the Wild Card round by the Minnesota Vikings in overtime 26–20, a third consecutive disappointing playoff finish for the Saints.
Payton was fined US$100,000 by the NFL for not properly wearing a face mask, as required for coaches during the COVID-19 pandemic, during a week 2 game in the 2020 NFL season on September 22, 2020.
Following the 2021 NFL season and a year after his long-time quarterback, Drew Brees announced his retirement from the NFL, Payton announced he would be stepping down as head coach after 16 years. Payton finished his tenure in New Orleans with an overall record of 161-97 and as the winningest coach in franchise history. On February 28, 2022, it was revealed that the Miami Dolphins had requested the Saints to interview Payton for their vacant head coaching spot, but were reportedly denied permission and had scrapped the idea after their former head coach, Brian Flores filed a lawsuit to the NFL over racial discrimination during hiring practices early that month. The Dolphins were considering pairing Payton with quarterback Tom Brady, who had briefly retired from the NFL from February 1, 2022 until March 13, 2022. On June 13, 2022, it was reported that the Dolphins offered Payton a five-year deal worth $100 million, a deal that would have made him the highest paid coach in NFL history, and would have been only the second $100 million deal signed by a head coach, after Jon Gruden's 10-year, $100 million contract to return to the Oakland Raiders in 2018. Six months after the pursuit was first reported, on August 2, 2022, the Dolphins and team owner Stephen M. Ross were fined $1.5 million and forfeited a 2023 first round draft pick along with a 2024 third round pick due to impermissable communication with both Payton and Tom Brady, who both share the same agent, Don Yee, between the 2019 and 2021 seasons. Ross would also receive a six-game suspension as a result and Dolphins vice chairman/limited partner Bruce Beal was fined $500,000 and received a year-long suspension for the 2022 season.
Main article: New Orleans Saints bounty scandal
On March 2, 2012, the NFL concluded after a thorough investigation that from 2009 to 2011, the Saints implemented a bounty program that rewarded players for deliberately attempting to knock opposing players out of games. The slush fund was determined to be administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who joined the team in 2009. An extensive league investigation found that Payton was implicated in the Bounty Scandal. The league determined Payton went as far as to orchestrate a cover-up when the league first investigated it in the 2009-10 offseason. When informed that the league was investigating reports of a bounty program, Payton met with Williams and assistant head coach Joe Vitt and told them, "Let's make sure our ducks are in a row."
According to a league memo, the NFL reopened its investigation late in the 2011 season. Just before the Saints' playoff game against the Detroit Lions, league officials alerted Saints owner Tom Benson that they had found irrefutable evidence of the Saints' bounty program. When general manager Mickey Loomis informed Payton that the league had reopened its investigation, Payton failed to shut the alleged program down.
On March 22, 2012, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Payton for the entire 2012 season, effective April 1. Payton became the first head coach in modern NFL history to be suspended for any reason. Goodell was particularly upset that Payton and other Saints officials had lied to him about the scheme. For instance, during its investigation, the league uncovered an email that Michael Ornstein, the agent for former Saints running back Reggie Bush, had sent to Payton. In reality, the Ornstein email wasn't directly sent to Payton, instead it came to team spokesman Greg Bensel, who then forwarded it to the coaching staff with this message: "email from Orny (he asked that I send it) the dude is in prison so I told him I would." The email stated "put me down for $15,000 on "Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers". "It's a running joke going for three years," Ornstein said. "Ornstein's email is just another example of the speciousness of the quote-unquote evidence that Commissioner (Roger) Goodell claims to have to support his erroneous accusations against Jonathan and the other players," lawyer Peter Ginsberg said. "As more of the evidence is revealed in the media, it is becoming more and more apparent how irresponsible the NFL's actions have been." When confronted with the email, Payton initially claimed he never read it, but subsequently admitted that he had. In an interview with ESPN's Adam Schefter, Goodell implied that Payton would have faced significant punishment even if he'd been more forthcoming. In Goodell's view, Payton's contractual obligation to supervise his assistants meant that, at the very least, he should have known about the scheme and shut it down immediately. In the league's announcement of sanctions against the Saints, Payton was faulted for violating a provision of the league constitution that requires coaches to inform their owners about team operations, as well as to "avoid actions that undermine or damage the club's reputation or operating success."
On March 30, 2012, Payton lodged a formal appeal of his suspension. Goodell held an expedited hearing on the matter and was expected to render a decision in "days, not weeks," according to ESPN's Schefter. Payton also used the hearing as a chance to get clarification on the terms of his ban. Goodell turned the appeal down on April 9, meaning that Payton's suspension was set to begin on April 16. He was to remain suspended until the end of Super Bowl XLVII, which was held in New Orleans. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Payton was to forfeit $7.8 million of his $8.1 million salary. He was barred from even casual contact with anyone in the NFL; any such contact would have to be reported to NFL executive Ray Anderson.
Soon after the suspension was announced, Payton began discussions with his mentor, Parcells, about serving as interim coach for the 2012 season.
In September 2011, the Saints and Payton agreed to extend Payton's contract through 2015. However, on November 4, 2012, the NFL revealed that it had disallowed the extension because it contained a clause the NFL deemed to violate its rules, which would have allowed Payton to leave if Saints general manager Mickey Loomis were not with the team. The NFL's action left Payton's contract status in doubt beyond the 2012 season, although Payton said that he intended to return to the Saints.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Payton on January 22, 2013.
During his 2012 suspension from the NFL, Payton served as the offensive coordinator for his son Connor's sixth-grade team in Argyle, Texas. Payton used a simplified version of the Saints playbook, and the team went unbeaten until they suffered a loss near the end of the regular season to a team that ran the single-wing, which his team was unable to stop. Since he believed he would face that team again in the league's playoffs, he obtained video that the father of one of his players had recorded, and then contacted his mentor Bill Parcells to help him break down the opponent's offense. The teams indeed faced one another in the league finals; Payton's team lost a considerably closer game in which they were able to slow down the opposing offense.
|Won||Lost||Ties||Win %||Finish||Won||Lost||Win %||Result|
|NO||2006||10||6||0||.625||1st in NFC South||1||1||.500||Lost to Chicago Bears in NFC Championship Game|
|NO||2007||7||9||0||.438||3rd in NFC South||—||—||—||—|
|NO||2008||8||8||0||.500||4th in NFC South||—||—||—||—|
|NO||2009||13||3||0||.813||1st in NFC South||3||0||1.000||Super Bowl XLIV champions|
|NO||2010||11||5||0||.688||2nd in NFC South||0||1||.000||Lost to Seattle Seahawks in NFC Wild Card Game|
|NO||2011||13||3||0||.813||1st in NFC South||1||1||.500||Lost to San Francisco 49ers in NFC Divisional Game|
|NO||2013||11||5||0||.688||2nd in NFC South||1||1||.500||Lost to Seattle Seahawks in NFC Divisional Game|
|NO||2014||7||9||0||.438||2nd in NFC South||—||—||—||—|
|NO||2015||7||9||0||.438||3rd in NFC South||—||—||—||—|
|NO||2016||7||9||0||.438||3rd in NFC South||—||—||—||—|
|NO||2017||11||5||0||.688||1st in NFC South||1||1||.500||Lost to Minnesota Vikings in NFC Divisional Game|
|NO||2018||13||3||0||.813||1st in NFC South||1||1||.500||Lost to Los Angeles Rams in NFC Championship Game|
|NO||2019||13||3||0||.813||1st in NFC South||0||1||.000||Lost to Minnesota Vikings in NFC Wild Card Game|
|NO||2020||12||4||0||.750||1st in NFC South||1||1||.500||Lost to Tampa Bay Buccaneers in NFC Divisional Game|
|NO||2021||9||8||0||.529||2nd in NFC South||—||—||—||—|
Payton has worked under eight head coaches:
Twelve of Payton's assistant coaches became head coaches in the NFL or NCAA:
Two of Payton's executives became general managers in the NFL:
After stepping down as head coach of the Saints, Payton joined Fox to work in studio throughout 2022, becoming a part of the Fox NFL Sunday panel as a fill-in for Jimmy Johnson's off days. Payton was also in talks to join Amazon's NFL coverage before accepting the role.
Payton met Beth Shuey, an Indiana State University graduate, while coaching there. The couple have two children, daughter Meghan (born 1997) and son Connor (born 2000). Payton is Irish Catholic. Payton and his family moved to a home in Mandeville, Louisiana when he became the Saints' head coach. The home, like many built on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, later turned out to be constructed with defective Chinese drywall, and Payton eventually became a named plaintiff in a widely reported class action lawsuit against the manufacturer, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd.
In the wake of the issues with their home in Mandeville, the Paytons decided to move the family back to the Dallas area in 2011, when they purchased a home in the Vacquero Club, an upscale golf community in Westlake that is home to several PGA Tour professionals, as well as the Jonas Brothers and Josh Hamilton. Rumors swirled over the 2011 Super Bowl weekend that the move would coincide with Payton returning to the Cowboys as the General Manager or in some other executive capacity, but these turned out to be groundless. At the time, he maintained a residence in the New Orleans area during the season, while his family resided full-time in Westlake, a 90-minute trip via a privately chartered flight.
In June 2012, Payton and his wife Beth filed for divorce.
In 2014, after his suspension and the finalization of his divorce, he moved from the New Orleans suburbs where he had kept his in-season home to Uptown New Orleans, buying a condo in that neighborhood, and now lives there year-round. Shortly before the 2015 season, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, he hosted a dinner for the four coaches and four players who had continuously been with the Saints since he became head coach, and presented each of them with a Rolex watch.
In January 2018 New Orleans musician Shamarr Allen dedicated a song to Payton entitled "Hit the Sean Payton" which he composed after watching an Instagram live video of Payton dancing in celebration with the Saints players after defeating the Carolina Panthers for the third time that season. Saints running back Alvin Kamara had recorded the locker room celebrations for his Instagram live feed and the video went viral on social media. On November 10, 2019, at the end of the Saints vs. Falcons games, it was announced that Payton had gotten engaged two days prior on November 8 to his girlfriend, Skylene Montgomery. They married in a private ceremony on June 18, 2021 in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The wedding was officiated by former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson.
On March 19, 2020, it was reported that Payton had tested positive for COVID-19. Payton became the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the NFL.