- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick don’t cross paths all that often. But it’s always been clear that there is a great deal of admiration and respect between two of the best architects in the NFL today.
Both coaches immediately mentioned this week that they share the same mentor -- Bill Parcells -- even though they’ve never worked together on the same staff. And Payton has always talked about how the Patriots franchise is the kind of functional organization he’s tried to emulate.
“[Belichick] has been someone certainly that I look up to,” said Payton, who said he first got to know Belichick when they coached the NFC and AFC in the Pro Bowl after the 2006 season.
Since then, their teams have practiced together twice during the preseason. Sunday’s game at New England will mark their second head-to-head meeting in the regular season (the Saints routed the Patriots 38-17 on a Monday night in the Superdome in 2009).
“When you are young in this league, Bill [Parcells] talked about this all the time -- he had guys like [Tom] Landry, [Joe] Gibbs and [Chuck] Noll, older guys that not necessarily took him under their wing, but that he could visit with periodically,” Payton said. “We’ve had a chance to scrimmage in practice with New England and that opportunity for me to just spend some time with Bill has been always helpful and a positive experience.”
Payton literally emulated Belichick in one of his most famous motivational ploys before the two teams met in that 2009 game. Payton dressed up as Belichick and imitated his monotone voice for a video he showed his team -- running through the Saints’ roster and pointing out all of the players’ weaknesses (including Payton’s weaknesses as a coach). Payton figured he’d get a laugh out of his team -- but that he’d also get their attention, since they knew Belichick was probably delivering those exact kinds of critiques to his own team that week.
Both Payton and Belichick said this week that they’ve noticed similarities and differences between themselves. Obviously Payton is more offense-oriented, and Belichick is more defense-oriented. But the way they focus on all the details that build a winning program are similar.
“We have a similar general overall outlook to the game as how we try to coach of what things are important,” Belichick said. “When we practiced with the Saints they are very easy to work with. I think the things that we want to emphasize in practice, they want to emphasize. The ability to do things and work together because of common philosophies, not schematically, but in terms of approach to the game, practicing, preparing, working against each other, those things were very easy with the Saints.”
Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who began his career with the Saints before being released twice, sees those same similarities.
“You see how they want their teams to be mentally tough teams that are smart,” Ninkovich said. “I think that both coaches really try to hit home on and get every single player in that mindset of playing three phases, taking care of the football on offense and creating turnovers on defense.”
Belichick also spoke highly of the problems that Payton’s offense presents. The Patriots saw the Saints offense at its best in that 2009 game, when Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns.
“I think Sean does a real good job of keeping the defense off balance,” Belichick said. “They really attack pretty much every inch of the field.”