Commentary

Sean Payton's blessing in disguise

Coach misses Saints but cherishes opportunity to spend time with his children

Updated: October 4, 2012, 10:41 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

The defiance remains in Sean Payton's tone more than five months after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell banished him for the 2012 season for his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal.

You can hear it when Payton casually mentions NFL head coaches not having unions. And you can sense it when he talks about how much he'd like to reach out to Drew Brees and some of the New Orleans Saints' other players as they struggle through an 0-4 start.

"There are a lot of guys I'd like to hug but I can't," Payton said Tuesday afternoon as he spoke at the PwC-SMU Athletic Forum in a Q&A session hosted by Brad Sham, the radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees and Sean Payton
AP Photo/Bill HaberSean Payton believes Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints will bounce back from their 0-4 start.

Green Bay defeated New Orleans 28-27 on Sunday.

"They played one of their better games of the year," Payton said. "Had they played that way earlier in the year, they probably would have won a couple more games.

"I do think that they'll turn this thing around. I think they have the right people in that locker room and the right assistant coaches. Granted, it's a tough challenge, but I just know how that team is made up."

The commissioner also suspended former Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, while assistant coach Joe Vitt received a six-game suspension and general manager Mickey Loomis received an eight-game suspension.

It's hard for Payton to watch the team he built into a Super Bowl champion languish in last place in the NFC South on Sunday afternoons, when he watches the games from his home.

Sometimes, though, you can find good in a bad situation. This is one of those times -- and it has nothing to do with football.

No longer is Payton an absentee father. A few years from now, when he has time to reflect, he'll truly understand what a blessing he received to spend a full school year hanging out with his kids.

And it doesn't matter whether he's taking them to school. Or picking them up.

It's the time that's important.

His daughter, Meghan, will never forget this year and the expression on her daddy's face as she cheers for Argyle Liberty Christian.

Connor, Payton's son, will never ever forget the season his dad spent as an offensive assistant on his sixth-grade football team.

The memories Meghan and Connor have from this year will last long after Payton's coached his last football game. Don't misunderstand, no one is judging Payton; it's about the reality Payton and every other NFL, NBA and MLB head coach and assistant coach faces.

They have devoted their lives to a job of inconvenience.

The job trumps virtually every birthday party, anniversary, athletic event and school performance.

Payton, who filed for divorce in July, loves his kids as much as any other parent. But he's no different than any other CEO of a Fortune 500 company or Type-A business owner or professional.

It's so easy for all of us to lose sight of the importance of family as we chase the American dream. Kids don't care how much money we make or how much prestige our position carries; all they want to know is you have time to play catch with them. Or see a movie. Or help with their homework.

These days, Payton's nights are no longer devoted to game planning and studying video and figuring out a way to get the Saints into the Super Bowl.

Now Payton devotes a chunk of every day to his kids.

Connor's football team at Argyle Liberty Christian practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"I'll be watching film of that tonight," said Payton, "because we've got a tough game with Springtown coming up and they're undefeated."

Payton watches Meghan cheer on Friday nights and he spends Saturdays coaching Connor's team. Sundays remain devoted to the NFL.

"The first three or four days, I found myself bitter and angry," Payton said of the suspension. "At some point, it was clear I didn't want to spend six months feeling this way.

"The time I'm getting to spend with my son and daughter has been invaluable. All these things were pictures and phone calls. It has really been unique and special. It's hard to explain."

Not really.

But Payton's goal should be to maintain the same type of balance, as best he can, when he returns to the NFL grind.

It won't be easy, but if he's committed, he can do it. Meghan and Connor will likely appreciate the effort.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.