- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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You know the story already. Now, Sean Payton’s filling in the details.
The coach of the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints has written a book that is scheduled to hit stores Tuesday. It is called “Home Team." The subtitle is “Coaching the Saints and New Orleans back to life."
That last line sums up the book in one sentence. But I recommend you read the book even if you’re a Saints fan and think you already know all about the Super Bowl season and the three seasons that preceded that. If you do, you’ll find out a lot of things you didn’t know.
We’re not talking any headline-grabbing revelations here, because there aren’t any. The big picture has played out very publicly. What Payton is doing with co-author Ellis Henican is coloring in the outline that already was sketched.
Like just about all football coaches, Payton runs a tight ship. When addressing the media, he’s generally guarded with what he shares, especially about the inner-workings of his team. That’s why this book is a rare opportunity to see what really has gone on with the Saints since Payton first interviewed for the job in 2006.
Payton’s playing by different rules in this book and, in a lot of ways, opening the locker room doors and his mind for fans to really see how the Saints went from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to the top of the football world. Written entirely in Payton’s voice, the book chronicles just about everything, from Payton’s first flight into New Orleans right up through the post-Super Bowl celebration.
Like I said, there’s nothing that’s going to grab a headline or really shock you. But there are a few significant confessions that haven’t been public knowledge.
Start with the daring onside kick to start the second half of the Super Bowl. That decision has brought Payton acclaim for making one of the boldest moves in Super Bowl history. Well, truth be told, Payton reveals the onside kick was not initially the surprise play Payton wanted to run.
In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Payton said he wanted to steal a possession from Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts and his first thought was to run a fake punt. He floated the idea by his coaching staff for several days and word trickled down to the players. Veteran long-snapper Jason Kyle finally went to Payton and delicately suggested the fake punt might not be a great idea.
“They didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear," Payton said. “They told me what I needed to hear."
Payton backed off the idea and special-teams coach Greg McMahon offered a counterproposal. That was the onside kick. Payton grabbed onto that and it worked masterfully.
There’s also a little revelation about why the Saints were so late in showing up for media day on Tuesday of Super Bowl week. Payton said that five players -- Tracy Porter, Bobby McCray, Roman Harper, Usama Young and Jermon Bushrod -- missed the team bus that morning. After each of the players made it to the locker room on their own, Payton shut the door and began blistering his team.
“I can smell a team that looks like they’re just happy to be in the Super Bowl," Payton said he told his team. “You guys reek of that team."
The Saints quickly stopped reeking and you already know how they went out and won the Super Bowl. Payton shares the details of the postgame joy and how he virtually had to be dragged to the morning-after news conference.
But this book isn’t just about the Super Bowl and the celebration. It’s about how New Orleans and the Saints were in disarray after Hurricane Katrina. Payton opens with a quick version of his life story before coming to New Orleans and that includes him ripping pretty hard on Jim Fassel, whom he worked under with the New York Giants. It also includes a fair amount about how Payton was on the verge of coaching the Oakland Raiders, but was talked out of it by various coaching friends, including Jon Gruden, John Fox, Bill Callahan and Bill Parcells. Speaking of Parcells, one of the biggest undercurrents of the book is how much of a mentor Parcells has been to Payton. They worked together in Dallas and Payton still was calling Parcells for advice during Super Bowl week.
Payton turned down the Oakland job because he sensed it wasn’t the right fit. Two years later, he went into New Orleans hoping he would get the head-coaching job he already had interviewed for in Green Bay. But Payton’s visit to a city where blue tarps served as roofs may have served as a calling.
Even though Payton said owner Tom Benson and general manager Mickey Loomis were brutally honest about the uncertainty surrounding the team’s future, he decided to take the job. He assembled a coaching staff at a time when it was difficult to convince anyone to move to New Orleans.
But the biggest move Payton made was getting quarterback Drew Brees, who was coming off a major shoulder injury at the time. Other teams were interested, but very concerned about Brees’ shoulder. The Saints were concerned too, but Payton said he and Loomis felt they had to take a dramatic gamble and make the biggest offer to Brees.
The rest is pretty much history. The book also includes some interesting anecdotes about Payton’s early days in New Orleans -- about how he ran off receiver Donte' Stallworth and defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, a couple of chronic underachievers.
Payton sometimes is portrayed as arrogant by some members of the media, but he doesn’t come across that way in the book. In fact, he’s humble at times. He admits to things, like going a little too far when he took the Saints to a water park during training camp and linebacker Scott Fujita wound up getting injured.
Payton also talks about the painful decision he had to make after the 2008 season when he fired defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs, the first assistant he had hired in New Orleans. Payton knew he had to do something dramatic to get better on defense. He hired Gregg Williams and the Saints got much better on defense.
They won a Super Bowl and, in a lot of ways, helped rebuild a city.