Is Sean Payton poaching coaches from the Saints good or bad?

Feb 6, 2023; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton speaks at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2023; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton speaks at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Based on several early reports, it looks as though Sean Payton will look to some of his old coaches in New Orleans to start assembling his staff in Denver. It’s been reported that the team will interview Saints’ QB coach Ronald Curry for the offensive coordinator opening.

They’ve already hired assistant offensive line coach Zach Strief away from the Saints to serve as the new O-Line coach in Denver. Saints reporter Jeff Duncan said early Tuesday morning that the team has interest in former offensive line coach Dan Roushar and former co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Kris Richard. He also reported that Payton has an offer out to assistant to the head coach/offensive assistant Kevin Petry.

Josina Anderson of CBS Sports said that the team is also eyeing Saints coach Declan Doyle for their tight ends coach. Full stop, that’s a ton of Saints assistants that could potentially be following Sean Payton to Denver. But considering how the Saints fared last season without Payton, is this a good thing?

The 2022 Saints left a lot to be desired. The team finished 7-10, and couldn’t win what was the worst division in football. The team sat at 4-9 entering their bye, but ended on a high note with 3 of 4 games won to end the year.

Jameis Winston played uninspiring football before getting injured, and subsequently being benched, but Andy Dalton actually appeared to be serviceable during his age-35 season. Alvin Kamara had another season where he was not his old dominant form, and only one non-Chris Olave receiver finished with over 500 receiving yards (Juwan Johnson, 508). The Saints finished 22nd in points scored and averaged 19.4 PPG. Better than the Broncos last season, but that doesn’t say much.

The defense, however, was one of the better units in football. Richard, co-defensive coordinator with now Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen, allowed just over 20 PPG, which ranked ninth in football. The unit was 6th in yards allowed, 5th in yards per play, second in pass defense, but took the ball away only 14 times, which was the second worst mark in football. Additionally, the run defense ranked as the 9th worst in football by total yardage.

Now with a better idea of the team as a whole, it’s fair to question why Sean Payton would want to poach coaches from this staff. However, there are a few reasons to believe Payton has the right idea.

Non-Decision Makers for Sean Payton’s Broncos staff

The only one of the assistant coaches that Payton has been linked to so far that was a decision maker was Kris Richard. His unit, however, was strong. Considering his co-coordinator’s background in the front 7 and his in defensive backs, it is fair to give Richard a ton of credit for how well the Saints defended the pass in 2022, and question how much of the lousy run defense and truly be attributed to him.

All of the other rumored coaches were not ones that have been in any capacity in make decision in New Orleans. All coaches deserve accountability for the product of the team they coach, none of them were in a position where the buck stops with them. Even the highest ranking one, Richard, was not calling plays on Dennis Allen’s staff.

Much like how Richard was not calling plays in New Orleans, if Payton was to bring Curry in as his new offensive coordinator, it is incredibly likely that Curry will not be calling the plays, so the Broncos would not have to work about yet another rookie play caller running the offense in Denver. If anything, Curry would only continue to improve by serving as the right hand man to Payton.

“Up and Coming Coach”

Multiple of the coaches that have been tied to the Broncos have been tabbed an “up and coming coach”, or something close to it. Troy Renck of Denver7 noted that Curry is considered a “rising star in (the) coaching industry”, Petry is noted by Duncan to be a “valuable member of the football ops staff”, Ian Rappaport noted that Strief has “quickly ascended in the coaching ranks”, and the list goes on and on.

Why is this important? Well, it is for a number of reasons. First, its a good sign that Payton has been able to bring all of these coaches into New Orleans. It shows that in the case that Broncos coordinators and assistants are hired away to other jobs, much as what might be beginning in New Orleans, Payton would have the ability to find and replace the value that they lost in departures.

Second, it shows that Payton is willing to bet on the trajectory of coaches, and bet on his own ability to find talented coaches, instead of looking for retreads who have not had a terrible amount of success. For example, Brian Schottenheimer has one top-10 offense in his 12 years as an offensive coordinator, and has never had a passing game finish higher than 12th in net passing yards, but just landed arguably the best set-up offensive coordinator opening in football.

So what does Schotty have to do with Sean Payton? Payton seems to have confidence in his ability to find good coaches, and not just fall back on ones who have done it before simply because they have the experience. The Broncos should be able to bring in who they believe is the best man for the job, and not simply just bring someone in because they have experience. Payton seems to be trying to strike a middle ground between experience and youth, while continually maintaining the best man for the job, regardless of their experience, or lack thereof.

The Saints Have Been Good For a While

How quickly people forget, but Sean Payton and the Saints had an incredible run of success. Payton went 152-89 over his 15 seasons in New Orleans, including 17 playoff wins, and a Super Bowl ring in 2009. While Payton deserves a ton of credit for his successes, he can’t do it all alone. All of the coaches, aside from Strief because he had not made it to the Saints staff yet, were on Payton’s 2020 team that went 12-4 and won the NFC South.

Notably, his assistant head coach from that year, Dan Campbell, is on the cusp of doing something great in Detroit and completely turning the Lions around. Pretty good for a coach off the Sean Payton tree. Needless to say, the résumé is impressive. But how can Payton have a run of success in Denver like the one he did in New Orleans?

Well, it starts with coaching. And in that, his staff. If he is able to bring in the coaches that he desires to, he would be building a strong staff that has a history of success and winning, and both of those together. I wrote recently about building a culture at Mile High, and this is a great way to begin that: an accomplished and respected staff that has proven they can win, and are all on the same page. Any staff that includes the rumored names Payton likes would be one that can command a locker room, project success and confidence onto the roster, and attract players from around the league.

For Sean Payton to rebuild the Denver Broncos into a perennial contender like he did with the Saints, he needs to build the right team. With the names he reportedly is trying to lure from other spots around the league, the process seems to already be underway.