Payton's new place
Young assistant looks forward to working with Parcells, QBsPosted: Thursday February 06, 2003 9:41 PM
IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Sean Payton's fast-rising career hit a major snag seven games into last season.
As the offensive coordinator of the New York Giants, one of Payton's top duties was calling plays. But after a sluggish start, head coach Jim Fassel decided to do it himself.
That was embarrassing. But it got worse when the team responded to the change.
Although Payton's professional crisis coincided with a personal one, the death of his mother, he maintained a brave face, projecting a whatever's-best-for-the-team attitude.
"The best advice I got early on was to make sure you just ride this thing straight through and don't ever flinch. Be positive about it," Payton said. "I'm glad I handled it that way."
Payton's response impressed his peers, including a former coach-turned-analyst named Bill Parcells.
"It showed me that he's a team player," Parcells said. "And I liked that."
When Parcells became head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in early January and was looking for bright young assistants, Payton was high on his list. Asked if he wanted to be Parcells' assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach, the 39-year-old Payton quickly accepted.
"Working with Bill Parcells and having a chance to be on his staff is special," Payton said. "Having a chance to work for the Dallas Cowboys is special. You put those two things together and you say, hey, regardless of whether you're calling plays, you're on a ship that's going this way."
Parcells had been following Payton's career since his debut as a play-caller in December 1999. In a game against the Parcells-coached New York Jets, the Giants produced 41 points and 490 yards. The following season, Payton helped the Giants reach the Super Bowl.
Despite the problems this past season, Payton was still a hot commodity. When the Giants gave him a few weeks in January to seek another job, he was considering two offers -- plus the chance to stay in New York -- before Parcells called.
He took the Dallas job without the promise of getting to call plays again. Parcells said he hasn't decided whether he'll do it, as he's done before, or give the job to one of his assistants -- Payton or offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, who played for Parcells and has coached under him before.
Picking a play-caller is a low priority. Far more important are designing the playbook and stocking the roster. There's also the sticky issue of settling the depth chart at quarterback.
"When you talk about young players, you always want to be careful," he said, using as examples reigning MVP Rich Gannon.
He was dumped by three teams before blossoming in his mid-30s. Also, Kerry Collins was released twice before leading the Giants to the Super Bowl under Payton's guidance.
"Make sure you spend a lot of time looking at those guys, working with those guys, to get a feel for what you have and developing their talents," Payton said.
He was a quarterback himself, putting up huge numbers at Division I-AA Eastern Illinois. His NFL career consisted of 23 passes for the Chicago Bears as a replacement player during the 1987 strike.
He got into coaching the next year, starting at San Diego State, then worked his way up to QB coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997.
Relegated to the "dungeon atmosphere" of the Veterans Stadium basement, Payton shared an office with another young, up-and-coming coach, offensive coordinator Jon Gruden. Bill Callahan was the line coach. Gruden and Callahan faced each other as head coaches in the recent Super Bowl.
"It was really interesting watching that game and having split emotions," Payton said. "It was good to see good things happen to guys you know work hard at it."
Gruden was an example of a tireless worker. Payton remembers arriving at 4:30 a.m. and finding that Gruden had been there an hour.
Payton still gets in before dawn. He also still talks to Gruden several times a month, often seeking his advice.
So what did Gruden say about working for Parcells?
"He was real helpful," Payton said, laughing, "But I can't tell you exactly what he said."