July 22, 2024


You are Your Only Limit

Career retrospective Sean Payton’s legacy success failure

5 min read
Career retrospective Sean Payton’s legacy success failure

Sean Payton decided to retire after the New Orleans Saints 2021 NFL Season. This retirement sent shockwaves through the entire team and organization. The Saints are a still team looking for an anchor after the retirement of Drew Brees but there was little gloom about the team. The Saints still boast a roster full of talent at key positions. Running back, wide receiver, offensive line, and nearly every position on defense has players at or near the top of their positions. Payton was still ready to move on to other opportunities though. He leaves behind a controversial but memorable history in New Orleans. The question of legacy can be discussed but what do the numbers say? Was Sean Payton a failure as head coach of the New Orleans Saints? This is a comparison of Sean Payton to his peers and a retrospective on his career.

Was Sean Payton a failure as the Saints head coach?

Some Saints fans are asking themselves this question following Sean Payton’s sudden retirement. Yes, Payton was easily the most successful Saints coach of all time. Some feel as if the team did not live up to expectations though. Seeing just a single Super Bowl win over 15 years does not seem like enough to some. How does this compare to other coaches though? Also, what about winning seasons, win percentage, and championships. Does Payton’s career hold up against his peers? Will comparing numbers show that Payton was not successful in New Orleans? Let’s take a look at Sean Payton and contrast his career with recent coaches.


What will the loss of Sean Payton mean for the Saints record this season?

  • 30%

    1-3 more losses

    (111 votes)

  • 28%

    1-3 more wins

    (105 votes)

363 votes total

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Head coach comparisons

So how does Sean Payton stack up against his peers? Very few coaches have over 10 years of experience coaching in the NFL currently. Those coaches are Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, and one other obvious comparison. That is the career of Bill Belichick. There really is no comparison between Belichick and any coach in the NFL. Belichick and the New England Patriots have appeared in nine total Super Bowls, winning six in the past 21 years. No other coach comes close to Belichick’s career. Since the year 2000, only one other coach has won more than a single Super Bowl title. That coach might surprise some people, but it is the now retired Tom Coughlin who won two titles with the New York Giants. Out of Coughlin’s 12 years with the Giants, the team finished with just six winning seasons. Coughlin boasts an incredible win percentage in the playoffs though. Compared with every current NFL coach and Payton, Coughlin has the best winning percentage in the playoffs at .727 percent. The only person close is Belichick at .714 percent. It is remarkable that out of the current slate of NFL coaches, not a single one has multiple titles other than Belichick.

Title by title, Sean Payton’s career stacks up squarely against every other current NFL coach. Carroll, Tomlin, Harbaugh, and Reid each have just one championship, just like Payton. The Saints and Payton only made the one Super Bowl though. This might be a reason to knock his career but even getting to multiple Super Bowls is incredibly difficult. Pete Carroll and Mike Tomlin have each been to just one other Super Bowl outside their one win. Andy Reid has made two other Super Bowls, but his career is much longer than nearly every other comparable coach. Reid has been a head coach for 23 straight seasons, first with the Philadelphia Eagles and now the Kansas City Chiefs. Like Payton, John Harbaugh has also not made another Super Bowl appearance with his team. The proverbial elephant in the room though is the now infamous no-call the Saints suffered against the Los Angeles Rams at the end of the 2018 season. If this game had been officiated correctly, simply adding a Super Bowl appearance to Sean Payton’s resume puts him more even with coaches like Tomlin and Carroll.

NFL: NFC Championship Game-Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

One play might have changed an entire organizations legacy
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

All they do is win

Thus far, Sean Payton’s career stacks up well against the best in the NFL the past two decades. Comparing overall wins to each other should show more about Payton’s career. The only coach that has a significant edge over Payton in win percentage in the regular season is Mike Tomlin. Tomlin’s coaching career has been remarkable. In his tenure, the Pittsburgh Steelers have never finished with a record worse than 8-8. This translates to a .643 win percentage, better than every other coach in this comparison. Andy Reid and Sean Payton compare well though. Both have a very comparable win percentage at .633 and .631, respectively. This outranks both Pete Carroll and John Harbaugh as they sit at .619 and .609 percent, respectively. For comparison’s sake, Tom Coughlin finished his career with just a .531 win percentage, but that extra Super Bowl changes all perspective on his career. Of note is what Andy Reid is currently doing in Kansas City though. In his nine years with the Chiefs, Reid boasts a massive .710 win percentage. If that pace continues, Reid will greatly separate himself from Payton and every other coach in these comparisons.

The Sean Payton legacy

There is simply no way to fairly call Sean Payton a failure when looking at the metrics and comparisons. Fans making the irrational comparison to Bill Belichick, or those unhappy with Payton’s retirement, should reassess with these comparisons. Payton’s career matches up evenly with every other long-tenured coach in the NFL. Believing that any of these coaches are failures means believing that every coach in the modern NFL is a failure. Do not let the unbelievable record of Bill Belichick skew what NFL success actually looks like. No comparison or metric can truly show the legacy that Payton leaves behind though. The Saints were a small market, unwanted team before his arrival. Not only did Payton bring New Orleans a title, but he brought and left a winning culture. The Saints will likely miss Payton at times this season, but that winning legacy is ingrained throughout the team. After 15 years with the team, Sean Payton leaves behind one of the best coaching records and legacy of any coach the past two decades.

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