Sean Payton on leaving New Orleans Saints: 'I felt like this was time'
After reports of his departure first surfaced earlier Tuesday, Sean Payton officially announced he is stepping down as head coach of the New Orleans Saints during an afternoon press conference where he thanked the team and its fanbase.
Payton, the most winningest coach in franchise history, coached the team to its first and only Super Bowl win during the 2009-2010 season.
Much of the press conference teetered between the then and now: the then in 2006, when Payton took his first head coaching job with the Saints a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated the community, and the now following a season that disappointingly ended with a Drew Brees departure, injuries and COVID-19 challenges.
“I just felt like this season was challenging for everyone, but man I felt like this was time,” Payton said. “I headed into training season feeling like it might be, but you don't tell anyone that.”
Payton also used the press conference to thank a long list of those involved in his Saints career: Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis, past and present players and the Benson family. Gayle Benson, who owns the Saints and Pelicans, was present at the press conference and received a King Cake from Payton.
He also thanked the fanbase and the city of New Orleans, recalling the moment when he drove down an empty I-10 to take the job in a city destroyed by one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.
“I don't think any of us when we started understood the dynamics of this and what took place post-Katrina,” Payton said. “This fanbase has been amazing. It’s not a wine and cheese crowd — people make decisions to buy season tickets that go into their budget.”
As for what’s next for Payton, he said he doesn’t have any plans just yet, though working in sports media — or even coaching again — could be something he considers in the future.
Missed the press conference? You can watch the full video here.
After the announcement was made, reactions from Louisianans began pouring in on social media. We gathered tweets from Saints fans, players and Louisiana leaders below who said their goodbyes to Payton.
Preciate you for keepin that shit ahunnid and givin a kid from Atlanta that wasn’t supposed to be shit a chance. I’ll see you in Idaho in a few weeks. Love ya bra @SeanPayton 💪🏾— Alvin Kamara (@A_kamara6) January 26, 2022
Sean Payton is a LEGEND don’t ever forget that !— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) January 26, 2022
That’s my HC! At the end of the day if Seans stepping away he has a master plan. Nothing but love for you Sean if this is it for you as my Hc then I thank you for drafting me, building phenomenal teams like ‘11 ‘18-21 first off the top of my head. 11 yrs my coach, forever RESPECT https://t.co/LXE2ubFjnN— cameron jordan (@camjordan94) January 25, 2022
Appreciate this man more than I can express, @SeanPayton wish you well on everything you do going forward! https://t.co/FUjgR9MJqu— DemarioDavis.eth (@demario__davis) January 26, 2022
@SeanPayton thank you so much for everything man!!!— T. Stead 🎤🎧 (@T_Armstead72) January 25, 2022
Thank you for coaching me, teaching me, helping me become the man and leader I am today! You literally put New Orleans on your back SP!
Coach @SeanPayton appreciate you giving me a another chance to ball! Legendary coach forsure! Wish you nothing but the best in the future !— Kwon Alexander (@kwon) January 25, 2022
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to play. You are a legend throughout the league but especially here in New Orleans ⚜️ Forever grateful for you ! Love in what you do next 🙏🏽 @SeanPayton— Marquez Callaway (@CallawayMarquez) January 26, 2022
. @SeanPayton congratulations on an awesome career! Been an honor playing for you and against you over the years. A true legend of the game. Happy that you get to leave on your own terms ! 👏🏾👏🏾 well done— Malcolm Jenkins (@MalcolmJenkins) January 26, 2022
Thanks for taking a chance on me @SeanPayton #WalkTogetherForever— Thomas Morstead (@thomasmorstead) January 25, 2022
Sometimes talent and ability just needs an opportunity to prove itself. @SeanPayton I’m forever grateful for that opportunity.— Marques Colston (@MarquesColston) January 26, 2022
The impact of your vision and leadership reaches beyond wins and losses- it helped create a culture that’s unmatched.
Enjoy the other side! Congrats. pic.twitter.com/ny5idIsuqi
Shout out to my HOF coach @SeanPayton Your swagger, confidence, teaching, and leadership elevated everyone in the building. Grateful to be drafted by @saints and having achieved greatness in record breaking fashion. Thank you for all the great #Moments&Memories #WhoDat https://t.co/0qllXPaXXZ— JAHRI EVANS (@J_7TRE_E) January 26, 2022
Grateful to have crossed paths with @SeanPayton.— Jermon Bushrod (@j_bushrod7475) January 25, 2022
Appreciate the patience, vision & belief that he and his @Saints coaching staff had for me when they drafted me out of @TowsonU in 2007.
Hell of a ride, Good luck on your future endeavors #WhoDat #WalkTogetherForever ⚜️
@SeanPayton Thank you bro for the best 5 years I ever had playing the game! The arguments and lessons I learned from ball to not rushing my kids to eat. It was always family and culture that made Nola, Nola. Now go get on TV somewhere so I can call in and argue 🤣 https://t.co/cd8U8zGacx— Craig Robertson (@C__Robertson) January 25, 2022
Can’t thank @SeanPayton enough for the opportunity he gave me changed my life. Was fortunate to have 4 of the best years of my life playing ball with you as my head coach— Justin Hardee Sr. (@jhardee_19) January 25, 2022
You became our coach after the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history hit our state— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) January 25, 2022
You forever changed the culture of our organization, bringing us to unbelievable heights
Our gratitude for the impact you have made on our state, city, & team is immeasurable#ThankYouSean 🙏 pic.twitter.com/bQgRM2l9IF
Forever grateful for your support of our team and city @SeanPayton 👏 #ThankYouSean https://t.co/4Wxv3nDe97 pic.twitter.com/022DEv8GrZ— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 25, 2022
Thanks, Coach Payton, for an incredible 16 years of memories. 🖤 ⚜️ 💚 #WHODAT @SeanPayton @Saints pic.twitter.com/UOkpdNcCmt— Tulane University (@Tulane) January 25, 2022
Thank you, Coach Payton, for 16 incredible years leading our @Saints through good times and bad. You came to New Orleans at a time when spirits were broken and hope seemed lost, but you gave the city and fans something to rally behind and be proud of. #lagov— John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov) January 25, 2022
Thank you Sean Payton!— Mayor LaToya Cantrell (@mayorcantrell) January 25, 2022
Payton delivered the first-ever Super Bowl to the City of New Orleans, and for over 16 years, he made the Saints a force to be reckoned with💯
Thank you, Coach Payton, for all that you did for the WhoDat nation!#WhoDatNation #WhoDat pic.twitter.com/RoQPd3oWea
First I want to say thank you for everything @SeanPayton did for me and my family and you will be missed by the whole WHO DAT nation. I want to thank you for everything you did for this city — you believed in us when nobody did so thank you for that.— Jarrius Robertson (@Jarrius) January 26, 2022
We love you coach😭🥺😭🥺🤩 pic.twitter.com/iw8Fqqq14J
The Who Dat Nation is the best fan base in the world! ⚜️ So thankful for 16 amazing years of memories in NOLA. The city where arms are always open & food is always offered. Thank you for taking our family in. #WhoDat @SeanPayton @Saints pic.twitter.com/8sNkWBzLj1— Meghan Payton (@meghanpayton7) January 25, 2022
The Who Dat Nation made me who I am today! Forever grateful to the fans and the city of New Orleans, will always be a Saints fan at heart⚜️🖤 https://t.co/yCytY7UUjv— Connor Payton (@ctpayton19) January 25, 2022
The sign of a good coach is leaving the place better than it was when you got there. Nobody can ever say Sean Payton didn’t do that. Heckuva run. #seanpayton— Rod Walker (@RodWalkerNola) January 25, 2022
.@Saints #WhoDatNation #seanpayton https://t.co/82fGkdjadE— Walt Handelsman (@Walt_Handelsman) January 25, 2022
Sean Payton changed the entire perception of the Saints as a franchise. He deserves nothing but praise and gratitude from Saints fans. He has to do what’s best for him in his life. It was a great ride. Sad to see it end, (if it’s over) but thrilled that it happened. #whodat ⚜️— stan verrett (@stanverrett) January 25, 2022