Sean Payton took over the Big Easy. Now some Dallas Cowboys supporters are pining for a similar reign over Big D.
The Payton cycle, set to indefinitely spin until he ends a retirement no one's fully convinced will stick, perhaps began anew with his latest comments from afar. The former Cowboys assistant head coach and New Orleans Saints boss seemed to long for a return to the sidelines while watching Week 2 of NFL action, so he told NewOrleans.football this week.
"This past weekend’s game against Tampa was the first time I had a version of (fear of missing out,)" Payton said. "I was jealous of everyone that was there, including random (former Tampa Bay coach) Bruce Arians on the sideline."
Even if Payton, now an analyst for Fox Sports' NFL coverage, is indeed long for a return and already through with retirement, he's certainly not going to put on the first headset that's offered to him.
If the right situation presented itself, I would definitely be interested," Payton clarfied. "There’s no Utopia, if you will, when it comes to teams, but if I felt like it was the right situation, I would have an interest in that. That all being said, that could come in a year, that could come in two years.”
Payton's past, working in Dallas under head coach Bill Parcells for three seasons and being said to be partly responsible for discovering Tony Romo, have long connected him and the Cowboys. Do the Cowboys, come as they are, constitute that "right situation" that Payton apparently covets?
How the Cowboys Please Payton
It's impossible to predict the next day in the NFL, never mind the next year. Let's assume, for argument's sake, that the Cowboys' path indeed leads to Mike McCarthy vacating the head coach's role.
You know, being on the "hot seat'' and getting fired.
His potential successor would enter an interesting, if not volatile, situation. Barring (further) injury, Dak Prescott will remain the Cowboys' franchise quarterback as he enters his 30s, if only because they can't afford not to (due a guaranteed $31 million in 2023).
Payton has been well known for unlocking the true potential of his quarterbacks. If he were to come back to Dallas within his two-year trajectory, he'd potentially be responsible for not only making the most out of the franchise man's latter seasons but also preparing the Cowboys for life after Prescott as well. Beyond the quarterback, Dallas offensive core is mostly settled in the immediate future: decisions will have to be made on the franchise-tagged Dalton Schultz, potential cap casualty Ezekiel Elliott, and aging Tyron Smith, but there's still enough lingering proven talent for Payton to work with.
If and when Payton does come back to coaching, he'll likely want to be a "one piece away" type of man, not the architect of a rebuild. That's something that will also forever link him to North Texas: the Cowboys have rarely, if ever, been ones to embrace a full-on rebuild, and the NFC East is open enough to leave a lasting mark. With some blaming the Cowboys' coaching for their lack of major success, Payton seems to be almost the perfect fit in the puzzle that is Dallas football.
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Why Payton Would Pass
Unlike other major names that often float around Dallas when it comes to head coaching vacancies, Payton doesn't seem to have any qualms about working with Jerry Jones and Co., previously calling his Dallas experience "outstanding." The elder Jones, to his credit, has been likewise complimentary. But another cliche, that of Jones' pride personified in his de facto general manager role, could once again step in the way.
Asking Payton, a self-described control freak, to mix with Jones' non-negotiable hands-on approach, feels like combining oil and water. Being the proverbial one, that mastermind that would get the Cowboys past the Divisional playoff threshold, would likely solidify Payton among the greatest coaches of all time ... but is that worth all the headaches that would undoubtedly ensue?
It's one reason our Mike Fisher has floated a theory: That Payton will use Dallas for leverage, upping the ante (10 years and $200 million?) to help him get the job where he can be a Belichick or a Popovich - in control of the whole show.
Payton, for his flaws, knows his shortcomings and undoubtedly knows that coaching "sequels" rarely perform as well as the first one. The Las Vegas Raiders, for example, got better after Jon Gruden's ousting, staging a playoff berth once the tenured boss was forced out of the building.
Dallas is "The Big Stage'' to many coaches (let us assure you, Payton thinks that). But it is also a location that can equally destroy his legacy as much as improve it. As someone who may face some resistance for a Hall of Fame case as is thanks to his bounty-tainted past (some critics were angry enough when Adam Sandler helped Kevin James turn it into a children's movie), why would Payton subject himself to any potential further smear?
At the end of the current day, Payton remains a twinkle in the eyes of Cowboys fans: McCarthy is set to lead the team into battle on Monday night, when they'll look to improve upon a 1-1 record against the undefeated New York Giants (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). And maybe a Cowboys win will cool off the "hot seat'' talk.
At least until next week.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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