New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, who led the team to its only Super Bowl title and, with quarterback Drew Brees, created one of the N.F.L.’s most successful tandems, announced his retirement in a news conference on Tuesday.
Payton’s 16-year run with the Saints will be remembered for all the winning — 152 games for a .631 winning percentage, the fifth-highest among current coaches and a high-water mark for a historically moribund franchise — but also his pugnacious attitude toward the league and the rules governing the way the game is officiated.
Payton was suspended without pay for the 2012 season for his role in a scheme to pay players who hurt opponents and knocked them out of games, a scandal that became known as Bountygate. It was the first time the N.F.L. had suspended a coach, and it cost Payton more than $7 million, while the team was fined $500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks.
Payton, 58, also butted heads with the league in 2019 after the Saints lost the N.F.C. championship game, in part because the referees failed to call what appeared to be defensive pass interference on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. That off-season, Payton successfully lobbied other teams to make pass interference a reviewable play.
He had been a member of the league’s competition committee, which reviews rules, technology, game-day operations and player protection, since 2017, but he stepped down from the group this season.
Payton made eight trips to the postseason, compiling a 9-8 record, including a victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl in the 2009 season. His departure adds the Saints to the list, now nine franchises long, of teams searching for new head coaches. Most of the other teams fired their coaches weeks ago, giving them a head start on interviewing replacements.
According to NFL Network, the Saints’ defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, is the leading candidate to take over for Payton, and Aaron Glenn, the defensive coordinator for the Lions who coached in New Orleans under Payton from 2016 to 2020, may also be interviewed.
Payton’s departure, which comes a year after Brees’s retirement, throws into flux the balance of power in the N.F.C. South, which the Saints have dominated for years. The future of quarterback Tom Brady’s tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only adds to the uncertainty.
It is unclear whether Payton is retiring from coaching, or if he is taking time off before finding another assignment. Payton’s name has been floated as a potential coach of the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he was an assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach from 2003 to 2005, when Bill Parcells led the team.
“I don’t know what’s next,” Payton said, addressing his future. “I don’t like the word retirement. I still have a vision for doing things in football, and I’ll be honest, it might be in coaching. It might be, but it’s not where my heart is right now.”
Payton said he would be staying in the New Orleans area.
Payton’s departure leaves a big hole to fill for the team’s owner, Gayle Benson. Payton called the offensive plays on the sideline and was involved in nearly every aspect of the team’s football operations, working closely with General Manager Mickey Loomis and Dennis Lauscha, the president of both the Saints and the N.B.A.’s Pelicans.
Payton helped turn around a largely moribund franchise that had only seven winning seasons before he took over as coach in 2006, the same year that Brees arrived as a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, and a year after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
“We took a chance on Drew at the time because we weren’t going to win any jump balls,” Payton said. “In other words, we had to be overly aggressive.”
Brees immediately became the centerpiece of the team and reeled off 12 consecutive seasons with 4,000 or more passing yards. He and Payton won 10 games and made the postseason in their first year together, and by 2009, after recording a 13-3 record in the regular season, won the team’s first and only Super Bowl title, which became symbolic of the city’s recovery.
With Brees gone, the Saints were not nearly as explosive this season, finishing 9-8 and failing to make the playoffs. Because of injuries, Payton was forced to use four different quarterbacks, who collectively could not muster the statistics that Brees compiled even in his weakest years.
Payton played one season as a quarterback with the Chicago Bears in 1987.