Why Payton can't save Cowboys

Image: New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton (© Chuck Cook/US Presswire)
Saints coach Sean Payton does not have a contract beyond this year, a report says.
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Jen Floyd Engel

Jen Floyd Engel, selected as the top columnist in the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors annual contest, started working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997 and became a columnist in 2003 before joining Sports opinions? She's never short of them. And love her or hate her, she'll be just another one of the boys. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.


“My dad told me to ask you if there is any chance Sean Payton comes to coach the Cowboys. He says it will never happen because of Jerry Jones. He wanted me to ask though because he really wants this to happen.”

This was from a student in a class of fourth, fifth and sixth graders I talked to Monday in Dallas, and perfectly summarizes the blissful myth that is Sean Payton.


  • Should the Cowboys hire Sean Payton?
    • Yes
    • No

He is unlikely to fix what has long ailed this Cowboys team.

In fairness, God Himself might struggle at that task as long as Jones is GM.

Yet every single media person began connecting dots anyway, sending Payton to Dallas and thereby Dallas back to glory because of a confluence Sunday of another ugly Cowboys loss, news of the NFL voiding Payton’s contract in New Orleans thus making him a possible free agent by the end of the year, his home in Westlake, Texas where his kids reside year round, and his history as a Cowboys assistant coach with a good working relationship with Jones. He once, somewhat infamously, talked a waiter at St. Elmo in Indy to give his Saints party (celebrating that Super Bowl victory) a bottle of wine reserved for Jerry Jones.

He also left a note:

Who Dat!

World Champions XLVI

Sean Payton

You have to know Jerry to understand how much he loved this. He loves lower guts. And he love, love, loves Payton. He regrets that Payton got away to New Orleans in 2006. He had hoped to keep him as Bill Parcells’ replacement and watching Payton win a Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans absolutely eats at Jerry. He’d love a chance to have Payton back in Dallas, even if this meant tossing his guy, Jason Garrett, off and under the Cowboy bus.

And absolutely, Payton would love to coach the Cowboys. What I know for sure about the suspended Saints coach from my time covering him in is he certainly has enough ego — in a good way — to handle coaching in the bubble that ensconces America’s Team. He also likes Jerry, got along well with him while coaching in Dallas and would love the challenge of returning the Cowboys to glory.

So why is this the single worst idea ever? Because it has zero chance of working. It would destroy the reputation of a really good coach in Payton, and give Jones political cover to say, “See, I really am trying to win.”


Matt Mosley wonders how comfortable Cowboys coach Jason Garrett can be with Sean Payton a coaching free agent.

And it could conceivably work for a couple of years.

To get Payton to Dallas, Jerry Jones would have to make some promises. He’d promise to give Payton final say on the 53-man roster, to not needlessly meddle, to not “T.O.” all of the hard work in rebuilding this franchise.

The phrase “to T.O.” is from Bill Parcells’ time in Dallas. Jones had hired Parcells in a wave of desperation in 2003. He needed a stadium built and thus needed credibility. So he hired Parcells and ceded control on just about every major football decision to him.

Until he simply could not help himself.

Parcells had built a solid foundation in Dallas, drafting players like Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff and bringing in Tony Romo. He had established this core of talent. Then Jerry, over Parcells’ most stringent objections, went and signed Terrell Owens.

Parcells should have quit then. He did not, muddling through an awful season and leaving later under this revised history version of events that he had failed. When really, Jerry had failed him.

In a very candid moment, Parcells talked about how in a couple of years you will barely know he was here. He was wrong. It did not take that long at all.

The thing is, as he is hiring coaches, Jerry really does plan to change. A couple of years ago, when Jerry introduced Wade Phillips, he teared up. He talked about having to get it right this time, and Jerry will stay true to this for a couple of years, like he did with Parcells and Jimmy Johnson before him.

What we also know for sure is Jerry eventually will be Jerry again.

And if Johnson and Parcells were unable to keep Jerry’s impact to a minimum or for any length of time, what chance does Payton really have?

Should Jerry hire Payton? Hell yes, and I say this as somebody who likes Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. Should Payton leave New Orleans for Dallas? Hell yes. There is a reason Parcells compared the Cowboys to the big stage in Vegas. It is the most relevant NFL job there is.

Could it happen? Yes.

Will it work? Unlikely.

Unless Payton is allowed to bring his GM.

Tagged: Cowboys, Jason Witten

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