National Football League
What drew Sean Payton to the Broncos — and why he's perfect for job
National Football League

What drew Sean Payton to the Broncos — and why he's perfect for job

Updated Feb. 6, 2023 8:39 p.m. ET

Sean Payton is headed to Denver, but I’ve got to say: The last year working with him on FOX was an absolute blast. If the Broncos are getting the type of culture-builder and high-energy guy who appeared on our hour-long "pre-" pregame show this Fall on FOX, they're going to very happy with every cent (and yes, there were many cents) spent on the 59-year-old Super Bowl-winning head coach.   

See, I never was one of Sean Payton's "guys" in the media. We were always cordial, but he was never one of the coaches I got any information or insight from. I never had his number, we didn't text, and I rarely found myself in New Orleans besides the few times I was covering Saints games. 

I'd been in his orbit for years as a sideline reporter and as a writer, host and reporter, but I never had any information out of New Orleans or knew who he was grabbing beers with at the NFL Combine. 

When I got the word that he was coming to FOX and would be a part of our FOX NFL Kickoff crew, I was excited. How often do you get a Super Bowl-winning coach on your studio show? How often is that same Super Bowl-winning coach a world-class raconteur? 


But I was also slightly skeptical of how much he would actually be willing to say, both on air and off, considering his already stated intentions to someday return to coaching. Was this going to be a coach walking on eggshells, complimenting every player and team so as to not offend and insult?  

I clearly didn't know Coach Payton. At all.  

He came in on that first weekend and blew us all away. Glistening with a great tan after a summer spent playing golf and hanging out with Wayne Gretzky up in Idaho, he had thoughts, takes and a yearning to be a core member on his new team.

Right out of the gates, he wanted to go out to dinner the night before our shows — something we rarely did, if ever, in the past. His whole thing was chemistry, trust and bonding. Coach Payton has a million people in his phone. He wanted to know every producer's name, every camera operator's home state and every host's kids' names and ages.  

He wanted culture. He wanted camaraderie. He wanted friendship. And he wanted a scoreboard. Again, we love our show and are proud of the work we do on FOX NFL Kickoff. But Coach Payton wanted to know ratings. He wanted to know how we were faring against ESPN; which segments were working and which weren't hitting quite as well. 

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Coach Payton might have been a rookie in the TV world, but he was a competitor through and through. If he was going to invest his time into the show and the people on it, he wanted it to be the best it possibly could be.   

He came out swinging with real football thoughts. And not easy ones. In Week 1, he said the lowly Detroit Lions were going to be better than Minnesota this season in the NFC North. They weren't, but holy cow, Detroit was the second-worst team in the league last year. They ended up winning nine games and were a few questionable calls in the Seahawks-Rams game away from reaching the playoffs. 

He said Jimmy G would replace Trey Lance. He said the 49ers defense would be the best unit in football, and the QB wasn't as big of a concern as it was with other teams. He also told a story about nearly drafting Patrick Mahomes, another story of celebrating on a train back from Washington D.C. with Wellington Mara after the Giants won on the same day that Washington, Philadelphia, Dallas, and the Jets all lost. He said a lot of things, and he wasn't worried about what that would mean or who that would offend. If there were any eggshells, he jumped over them.  

Soon, those dinners would turn into after-dinner drinks which would turn to a text message thread which would turn to an awesome bond between myself, Coach Payton, Michael Vick, Charles Woodson and our tremendous host Charissa Thompson. But when the season came to an end and the coaching carousel kicked off, I was certain he'd become a hermit. "Nice knowing you, Coach!"   

I figured he'd keep every secret under lock and key.  

Alas, Payton was true to his word, and he was going to finish the season out and do whatever it took to make the best TV possible. We did a unique segment during Week 18's show where I asked him three questions straight up about the Broncos gig, and he answered them honestly and openly. 

In the days that followed, he kept us all abreast on interviews and Zoom sessions with the Broncos, CardinalsTexans and Panthers. On last week's show, he wore an orange tie (coincidence? Sure ...) and assured the viewers that he was absolutely still in the running for multiple jobs, despite reports indicating every team with vacancies had moved on from the Payton Sweepstakes.   

He and I spoke a bunch about the Broncos gig, and I can't tell you I have a read on how he plans to resurrect Russell Wilson's career after whatever 2022 was. But I'll assure you that if anyone is going to get the very most out of Wilson at this point in his career, it's Payton. He's too competitive, too football obsessed, for this simply not to work.  

A few things I know Payton loved about Denver: First, their new ownership group blew him away. Greg Penner is one of the most successful businessmen in the United States. Payton said he and Penner hit it off right away and their conversations were more about leadership and culture than X's and O's. 

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also made a lasting impression on Coach Payton. So much so that when I asked him how he would describe her, the word he used was "stud." GM George Paton isn't someone Payton knew well. But he liked him, loved what he had to say about roster development and was excited about the possibility of working with him.   

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The biggest reason Payton fell in love with Denver, though? The tradition.   

Denver's not an expansion team. The fans are not new to the sport. They expect and demand success. That means something. That city has the reigning NBA MVP, and yet, Broncos games are still the hottest tickets in town. The history, the tradition, the Super Bowl rings — Denver is one of the top franchises in the sport.  

When I left the studio on Sunday, I said goodbye to Coach Payton, knowing something was brewing with Denver. He had that damn orange tie on.

Something is happening, and it's an injection of hope (yet again) for a franchise that isn't used to missing the playoffs year after year.  

I can't tell you it's going to work, but I know that man is going to come in and at least give the franchise its best shot at rising again.  

I'll miss working with Coach Payton. He's a good dude. But I'm happy the Broncos now get to experience what our show lived and breathed over the last six months.  

Peter Schrager is an NFL writer for FOX Sports and a host of "Good Morning Football" on NFL Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @PSchrags.

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