WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Perched above sparkling new practice fields carved into the Allegheny Mountains, New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton took turns raving about their new training camp facility on Thursday.
The facility, which cost a reported $30 million, was spearheaded by The Greenbrier resort owner Jim Justice and sprung up within a matter of four months.
Loomis said the facilities “exceeded expectations.” And Payton credited several people for going “above and beyond,” from the folks at The Greenbrier to the Saints’ operations people to Rogue Fitness, who loaded up the weight room.
“I'm not surprised, but I'm very excited and pleased by everything that's happened in a short time. It's been amazing,” Payton said.
Payton said the success of such massive endeavors always comes down to “the people” -- especially Justice in this case.
When a train screamed by and briefly interrupted Payton’s press conference Thursday, Payton half-joked that Justice could have the train stopped if he wanted.
And the admiration between the two bold visionaries is mutual. Justice told local reporters the other day, “You’ve got to be able to tell what good timber is, and this guy (Payton) has got his act together. He’s an organizer. He’s meticulous beyond belief. He’s eaten up with enthusiasm and passion. … I can’t stand people around me that are sticks in the mud, but this guy is anything but that and he’s a winner.”
USA Today’s Jim Corbett spent time with Justice and wrote up a great profile, including Justice revealing that he happily obliges when people ask him for autographs -- mistaking him for Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells. The USA Today spread also included a detailed series of photos of the Saints’ new digs.
As for the effects that The Greenbrier will have on the Saints’ team, Payton and Loomis both identified two reasons above others for making the move from Metairie, Louisiana. One, they both believe that change is a good thing from time to time. Two, they believe the much cooler climate will benefit the players on the field.
“We wanted to get to a place with a better climate and see if that impacted our team in terms of soft-tissue injuries and some of the other things that we did,” Loomis said. “Those were the two factors in why we wanted to change venues, and once we got a look at this region and this area, it made a lot of sense for us.”
When asked if stowing the players away in a secluded small-town setting also helps with team bonding, Loomis smiled.
“You’re always looking to limit the distractions that you have at any given camp,” Loomis said. “And certainly this looks like a good place for that.”
Weather could be one possible drawback since The Greenbrier doesn’t have an indoor facility. But Loomis said lightning is the only thing that would chase the Saints off their three outdoor fields (two natural turf and one synthetic).
Bubba on board: Speaking of bold visionaries, the Saints hooked up with one of their most high-profile fans while in town -- two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. Watson and his family recently moved into a home built at The Greenbrier. But the Florida native has been a longtime Saints fan, so he’s fired up about his new neighbors. He even got his hands on a playbook.
Going solo: The Saints won’t be joining up with too many other pro athletes on this trip, though. Loomis said there are no plans to hold joint practices with any other teams this summer -- though it’s something they may consider in the future.
Not in New Orleans anymore: On a personal note, I got an interesting welcome to my new surroundings Thursday as well. While going for a jog on a trail along the river, I was surprised to turn the corner and see a deer blocking my path. We both had that deer-in-the-headlights look for a minute or two before the deer fortunately trotted off and let me go on my way.
Loomis, when asked what it says about Payton that he joined in on the team’s conditioning test Thursday: “It says that he’s in a lot better shape than I am. A lot more courageous than I am too. I’ll let him speak to that conditioning test, but I can tell you this: it was tough. I was a little -- I wouldn’t say skeptical because I know he’s in good shape -- but he put himself out there to do that.”