Payton confirmed in a team-issued statement Tuesday that he is buying a house in North Texas and moving his wife and two children there while he remains the Saints' coach.
|Sean Payton has recorded a 53-33 overall record in five years as head coach of the New Orleans Saints. (Kirby Lee/US Presswire)|
Payton later appeared on WWL-AM and said the move is all about his family's "attachment" to the area, not any desire to rejoin the Cowboys, with whom he spent three seasons as an assistant coach.
"My job is to coach this team. And I'm under contract for two more years coaching this team," Payton said, according to the Times-Picayune. "And I know this: I hope when I'm finished coaching, this is my last spot coaching. And, honestly, I don't see myself coaching 10, 15 more years."
Still, the decision isn't sitting well with numerous Saints fans who have expressed consternation and confusion over the matter on call-in shows and internet chat sites.
Saints owner Tom Benson and Mickey Loomis issued statements of support and sounded confident that Payton was committed to sticking with the team that first made him a head coach in January 2006.
"Sean is our head coach," Benson said. "Like we do with everyone in our organization, we support them when they need to make tough personal decisions. Sean is making a decision in the best interest of his family, and he needs our support, and he will get it. What I do know is that Sean is completely focused on bringing our team back to a championship."
Loomis pointed out that it isn't uncommon for coaches to work in one city while their permanent home is in another. Retired NFL coach Tony Dungy did so with the Indianapolis Colts while his family lived in Florida. In the NBA, current New Jersey Nets coach Avery Johnson maintains his permanent home in Texas.
"Really, it's not a thing where you commute day to day," Payton said on WWL-AM. "Your family comes in for the weekends when you're playing games. I'll get back to Dallas on the weekends in the offseason. ... And I really look at it as far as a time-management thing, something that will be easy for me to handle. I'll have more time at the office as far as in season, because I won't be trying to get back and forth, certainly on a day-to-day basis."
Said Loomis: "This is a personal family matter for Sean and his family, and after discussing it with him, I support his decision. We spoke of numerous other coaches that have done the same thing successfully. I am confident that Sean will continue to be an excellent head coach for the Saints for many years to come, and he remains steadfast to get our team back to the Super Bowl and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to New Orleans."
Even if that is the case, New Orleans is unlike any other NFL city because of the bond between fans and the team. The relationship has transcended the action on the gridiron since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
Payton has taken a public-relations beating the last 24 hours as rumors about his family's move began to circulate and fester for more than a day before he finally issued a statement. Readers of the Times-Picayune's website, nola.com, posted hundreds of messages on the subject, many expressing disenchantment with a coach they had seen as a pillar of the community.
Because Payton had been an assistant in Dallas from 2003 to 2005 and maintains a friendly relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, numerous fans worried that the coach might have designs on returning to his former employer.
Others were simply insulted and accused the coach of hypocrisy. Not only had Payton played a leading role in helping the Saints promote their mission to rebuild the city since Hurricane Katrina, he had also published a book, after the 2010 Super Bowl triumph, entitled: "Home Team -- Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back To Life."
Now Payton is making a change that many interpret as the coach essentially saying their city is no longer good enough for his wife, Beth, and their two children, Meghan and Connor.
The subject dominated call-in shows, where some wondered if Payton was having trouble with his marriage -- which the coach denied. Others urged angry fans to stay out of the coach's personal business and give him the benefit of the doubt.
In his book, Payton recalled that when he was hired by the Saints, he considered keeping his family in Dallas, but the Saints refused, fearful it would send the wrong message. Payton wrote that he realized then that, if one was going to join the Saints after Katrina, they had to be "all in."
Payton reiterated that point Tuesday.
"People know we have jumped in, all in, to help shed positive light on this city and our team, and we will continue to do that ...," he said. "Again, I understand the speculation. I can't change that. My commitment here is to win these football games. And my commitment at home is to win more of those games with Connor and Meghan and my wife."
Payton moved into a suburban development in Mandeville, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, when he became the Saints' coach. A couple years later, however, Payton's family had to move out of the house because it was built with wallboard from China that was found to emit chemicals under hot and humid conditions, ruining metals in everything from jewelry to electrical wiring.
The home had to be gutted and the interior rebuilt before the Paytons could move back into it.
Now they're on the move again, to a place where the children will attend a new school and make new friends -- most of them Cowboys fans.
"You know, my son is dying for me to be at practice, and my daughter is dying for me to be at more of her events," Payton said. "It's hard to explain the pull that this job and this career has. We knew going in, and I knew going in, how demanding it can be. And when you win a Super Bowl, those demands can get even tougher.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.