Former Super Bowl-winning Saints coach Sean Payton, whose name emerges regarding virtually every NFL coaching opening, takes a timeout to huddle with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What do you miss most not coaching?

A: There’s two things. The preparation is enjoyable, because when you work on something, you see it on video and then it has success in a game, you miss that. And ultimately, the thing you can’t replicate, you miss the wins, you miss winning. That feeling is so euphoric, putting in a whole week of work and preparation, even though it may not be perfect, having success and winning, those would be the two things.

Q: Bill Parcells said that as he got older, the losses became more difficult.

A: It’s one of the more challenging things because of the amount of time and energy that goes into it, and it’s really when you find out about not only yourself but your team and your stuff. You come in on Monday, and you’ve had a tough game day, you’ve lost for whatever reason, however reason, and you deal with the injuries on that Monday. … You gotta understand, “Hey, why is it that we didn’t have success?” And then quickly you gotta pull yourself up and find that energy to dig deep, so yeah, I think because of the investment, that’s one of the challenges. Are we enjoying the wins enough? And as difficult as the losses are, how do we shake ’em and move forward without understanding or with the understanding as to how it happened?

Sean Payton explains ‘right fit’ he’s looking for in potential coaching return

Sean Payton misses the preparation that went into coaching.

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Q: Why did you feel you needed to take a year off to recharge your batteries, and do you feel like your batteries have been recharged?

A: For me, it felt like the right time. There were probably a number of things. Ultimately, your own health and physical well-being. People will say, “Hey, you don’t have to be there till 1 in the morning.” But that worked for me, that’s what I needed. It was very efficient, our work week and our schedule. I think this offseason, the spring and into the summer, I’ve been able to do a number of things you normally wouldn’t be able to do. I think there’s been this, “Well, is this the year he’s gonna return?” I don’t know the answer to that really. I’m enjoying this job with Fox. If it was this year, that’s fine. I think more importantly, if that were to happen, it would just be the right fit. But there is that perfectionist in you that wants to be good at whatever you’re doing, and I’m enjoying that element or that challenge in the studio.

Q: What are the requirements of a right fit?

A: I think you know it when you see it. I was spoiled in New Orleans with great ownership, a general manager [Mickey Loomis] who to this day is one of my closest friends, and a fan base that’s passionate. It wasn’t just always a bed of roses, but I saw a very, very functional [organization] and was a part of that for 16 years, so I don’t want to say the word spoiled, but there’s an expectation then once you’ve kind of had that. And so I think for me that’s the standard because that’s what I was able to experience for 16 years.

Q: Does the city or the weather have any impact?

A: No, I’ve coached everywhere.

Q: How about winning tradition?

A: Well, the Saints didn’t have that when I arrived. Let’s be honest, there are a number of teams that, for whatever reason, losing has found them. Why is that? I’ve always found that if I’m focused on the current thing I’m doing, the other stuff’ll take care of itself. And I know that as this season winds down there’s gonna be more and more requests relative to, “Hey, where are you going?” I’ve really looked closest at the Fox element of we have a Super Bowl this year, and each week in preparation for the studio job, whether it’s the first one or the second show, what are the areas that I can improve on? The coaching, if it returns again, it’ll have to be the right fit. And part of that is when I went on my interview in New Orleans, the question mark for me at that time, I felt really good about my visit with Mickey and ownership, it was more is this city gonna recover from [Hurricane] Katrina? Each place has got its unique set of challenges. You look at it I think from my perspective is do they have a chance to win?

Q: How about an elite quarterback, how does that factor in?

A: We’re not running from that (laugh). There wasn’t that in New Orleans, we knew we had to address it, we found it, we identified it. And I think we, when I say that, our staff, myself, are pretty good at evaluating that position and making those type of decisions. This upcoming class is pretty good in college, from what I understand. The following year looks pretty good as well. That kid at USC [Caleb Williams] looked tremendous the other night [against UCLA]. I think that doesn’t trump functionality within the front office and ownership group.

Q: Let’s bounce around the league: Micah Parsons.

A: He’s probably the best pass rusher in our game today. I’m relieved every time he drops into coverage (laugh). But he’s rushing a lot more of late. I would say the Defensive Player of the Year.

Sean Payton explains ‘right fit’ he’s looking for in potential coaching return

Sean Payton took a break from coaching this year.

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Q: He’s been likened to the young Lawrence Taylor. Do you see any of that?

A: Yeah, well he’s a pressure player. You see him as the standup outside linebacker, that would be the prototype position. He’s got tremendous athleticism, he bends. … he’s one of, if not the best defensive player in our league.

Q: Describe the job Giants coach Brian Daboll has done, and how well do you know him?

A: Just know him professionally, not that well other than that. What he came to relative to some of their challenges from a personnel standpoint and a cap standpoint. It’s good to see Saquon [Barkley] healthy, and this is the year where you’re looking at it saying, “Hey we’re getting some return on that investment.” You can tell there’s an energy, and it’s certainly reflective of their head coach.

Q: Do you think Daniel Jones is their quarterback of the future?

A: It’s hard for me to give that opinion ’cause I don’t see as much of the reps as those guys do. I would say this: His chances of being that have increased dramatically with the addition of Brian. On his past trajectory, it didn’t look positive, but I would say he’s having a fantastic season, so that would be tougher from an outsider looking at that.

Q: What are your thoughts on Zach Wilson?

A: He’s struggling, obviously. The team has had success. One of the big allies for good quarterback play is a balanced or good running game, I don’t care who you are — all the way from [Patrick] Mahomes down the list to the newest rookie that’s playing. So I think it’s become a little bit more of a topic just as their running game is diminished with the injury to their runner [Breece Hall]. Yeah there’s pressure on him, I think he probably would regret how he handled the postgame interview, and I think that became a little bit more polarizing with his response than it might have been otherwise.

Q: What would you tell him if you were his head coach?

A: Andy Reid was great at this, you have a tough loss, and somewhere in that initial opening statement, he’d say, “Look, it starts with me, I’ve gotta do a better job,” and it’s pretty liberating when you say that, and it also defuses any of the negative energy in the room. I think that’s something he’ll learn.

Q: If Drew Brees had said what Zach Wilson said, would you have addressed that with Drew?

A: First off, it would never come from Drew, but I got Drew older in his career. … It’s unbelievable how much pressure you can take off yourself by holding yourself maybe to an elevated level of accountability, and that’s part of playing quarterback. I think you’ll get a different vibe from him from here on out. This is just one of those “you fell on the pavement, not on the grass” mistakes.

Q: So you would have addressed it with a young quarterback immediately.

A: I would have just been like, “Hey, you want some help here? Or you want to keep battling these guys this way?”

Q: What do you think of Justin Fields’ breakout season?

A: Let’s discuss breakout and define that. Certainly their offense has changed. … [Coach] Matt Eberflus and his staff did a great job of really kind of re-evaluating, recalibrating maybe moving or pivoting a little bit as we like to say on the direction they were headed. … That all being said, they still haven’t won enough games. Sometimes we tend to overlook, there’s a 62-yard run in there but there’s a critical interception that costs you a game. I think there’s still a growth element left for his game that has to happen.

Q: The 2021 quarterback class: Did you have a favorite other than Trevor Lawrence?

A: Clearly there was the one, and then we felt there was a gap before we started drafting another one in that first round. Our grades then came in more towards the latter part of the first or second. But like always, that position’s a little bit more supply and demand. The kid at Alabama with New England now [Mac Jones], I liked the way the ball came out, he got rid of it. But I would say nothing close to the reports we had on Mahomes or some of the others we’ve done.

Q: So Trevor Lawrence was the only guy in the top 10 you had rated that year?

A: Yeah, 100 percent.

Sean Payton explains ‘right fit’ he’s looking for in potential coaching return

Sean Payton, left, and Drew Brees

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Q: Zach Wilson would have been down toward the bottom of the first round?

A: Grade-wise yeah.

Q: What do you think of Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke?

A: He just finds a way to win. He’s given them some juice, and I think that defensively they’ve gotten better. He’s found a way not to beat ’em, and they are having success running the football, so he’s fun to watch. He certainly seems to have the respect of his players, and he’s given ’em some life. I see that team being in the bottom of that division relative to the other three. With the new playoff addition of a third wild card, it’s possible one of these years we’re gonna have all four from a division go to a playoff. If you look at this year’s, you’d say both the NFC and AFC East are the stronger divisions that would have a chance of doing that.

Q: What did you think of the Christian McCaffrey trade to San Francisco?

A: I think for Christian, it’s not just a great move because you’re heading to a winning team, but you’re also heading to a place that the burden won’t fall on you as much from a pitch-count standpoint. Healthier, more available, longer career is the first thing I think about there.

Q: How excited would you have been to scheme up plays for Tyreek Hill?

A: He’s dynamic, isn’t he? I see an intelligent player when he’s on the field playing not only with his speed, you see him just play with really good football savvy. You see it with [Travis] Kelce when he plays, and I saw it with Hill when he plays and I still see it with him.

Q: How about Tua Tagovailoa?

A: I probably wasn’t as high on him when the season started. You cannot not be impressed with how he’s playing right now though.

Q: Do you know Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel?

A: I don’t, but obviously his pedigree back in San Francisco before that with the Shanahans, I think he’s done a great job in his first year.

Q: Geno Smith’s resurgence?

A: Surprised. We played ’em last year, I didn’t see that coming at all. And for it to be a resurgence, I would disagree. It would just be a surgence (laugh). There’s no “re-.” There is never a start to that. Occasionally we see a quarterback kind of like a good red wine. I’m not making the comparisons, but in their career we saw a late-blooming Trent Green, and then we also had Rich Gannon. Those guys were better in their 30s than in their 20s.

Q: What’s the deal with Russell Wilson?

A: Gosh, good question. Well, there’s a lot of things that they’re not doing well, and there’s probably a lot of mud on a lot of people’s hands, including himself.

Q: Does he look diminished physically?

A: I still see a guy with a live arm, I see a guy who’s decisive. Is the offense exactly what he’s used to? All the little nuances I’m unfamiliar with. I know when Drew came to us as a free agent, we quickly changed to what he knew because we were in our first year, no one had it yet. I don’t know if they feel like they’re making progress there. I don’t know who his targets are that he feels like this is where the ball’s going each week. I know there were a lot of resources used to get him, so they’ve gotta find a way for that to work.

Q: Are the Cowboys a Super Bowl team with or without Odell Beckham Jr.?

A: I think so. Philly, Dallas and the 49ers are the three biggest threats in the NFC. I think the 49ers are the most balanced team when you say defense, running game, explosive playmakers.

Q: Describe the bond you’ve had with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

A: He was one of the first ones to write me after we won a Super Bowl in ’09. Just always enjoyed his company, his personality, his passion, and I think Bill [Parcells] felt the same way.

Sean Payton explains ‘right fit’ he’s looking for in potential coaching return

Sean Payton didn’t see Geno Smith’s resurgence coming.

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Q: What is the biggest single lesson you learned from Parcells?

A: It would be all the other things in the building. The functionality of what wins and then what doesn’t. And then really steering your ship in the right direction that way. It was like law school.

Q: The struggles of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers?

A: We’re in a changing league each year with personnel, and I think the offensive line changes have been difficult for both of ’em, just as the loss of a real good receiver for Aaron, and the same with Tom, the weapons have changed on the perimeter. I think a lot changed around them in their units. Despite how fantastic they both are, you saw the impact of it this year, it just happened to be at the same time.

Q: Do you think Rodgers will continue playing?

A: I have no clue. When he did his new deal, that wasn’t a surprise. When Davante [Adams] a few days later went to the Raiders, I was floored by that. Really the best QB-receiver tandem in arguably the last 10 years. With Tom, a guy like Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] was a little bit underrated as a blocker. I think they’ve really struggled replacing that position.

Q: Jeff Saturday as Colts coach?

A: I thought Bill Polian gave the best response. I was not one of those that was just up in arms about it all. Look, the owners own, they own the car and the road that we drive on. And this isn’t a, “well you have to do this to get that.” Because [that’s] the same criticism we heard when John Lynch was named general manager of the 49ers. A lot of personnel people: “Well he’s never scouted, he’s never …” Look ultimately, there’s somebody in a position of power that’s wanting to win, that’s saying, “Look, I think the skill sets are necessary, what Jeff doesn’t know he’s gonna be smart enough and find out and bring himself up to speed.” Obviously it’s a little unprecedented or a little unique, but he handled it well, and he doesn’t have to apologize for that. This is not the military where you have to do this, this, this to become that. That’s not how it works.

Q: The Chiefs traded in front of you to No. 10 in the 2017 draft to beat you to Mahomes.

A: I wouldn’t be on the phone with you right now if that happened.

Q: How would you have explained that to Drew?

A: He was in the room at the time. He had some friends in from Purdue, and was just taking a tour. I grabbed him and pulled him aside and I just said, “Hey there’s a chance with this pick 11 we’re taking a quarterback. I don’t think it’s gonna impact you.” I felt like we were comfortable with where Drew was from a career standpoint.

Q: Deshaun Watson was still available.

A: But our focus was on [Marshon] Lattimore and Mahomes.

Q: How will Watson be received when he returns from his suspension?

A: That’s a great question, I don’t know, and it’s a long time for not playing. The better question is what can we expect from a playing standpoint? I don’t know how he’s gonna be received. I think what was just as challenging or just as difficult for the fans was the contract that came just after all this. That was like a perfect storm.

Q: What did you think of the contract — five years, $230 million fully guaranteed?

A: I thought it was too much. But it’s Cleveland. The year the movie “Draft Day” came out, you remember [Browns GM played by] Kevin Costner does the functional thing and makes the right decision. The very same year that movie came out, the Browns are facing the same decision, they draft Johnny Manziel. And so in Hollywood they got it right, and in Cleveland they got it wrong.

Sean Payton explains ‘right fit’ he’s looking for in potential coaching return

Sean Payton

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Q: What did you make of all the massage therapists’ allegations?

A: It’s hard to keep up with it all, and obviously it’s concerning when he’s your franchise quarterback.

Q: Darrelle Revis?

A: He was one of those big, physical guys that there aren’t many that you’d say just leave him alone and he can do it. He was one of ’em. I also thought he had pretty good ball skills, and I also thought be was pretty intelligent.

Q: Sauce Gardner.

A: He’s certainly gonna be on my All-Name Team. It’s fun to watch him. I like his length. He has tremendous ball skills, which is huge. I think those guys are closer than the Giants really right now, and I think the Giants are a great story.

Q: Favorite New York Giants memory.

A: That win in Kansas City after 9/11, the infamous picture that you see in the locker room, that was a fantastic memory. The 41-0 [NFC] Championship game over the Vikings to go to the Super Bowl [XXXV]. And I would say the people. … Four years in a place like that is special.

Q: Who is your Super Bowl pick?

A: I said this on record a few weeks back I’d stick with it: I think we see a repeat of Kansas City-San Francisco. And then, I don’t have a pick yet.

Q: You don’t think this is Buffalo’s year.

A: I think Buffalo’s in the hunt. … This Patrick Mahomes is something. … My third team would be Baltimore, maybe Tennessee, ’cause they can shorten the game.

Q: What is life like today for Sean Payton?

A: I’m out here on the West Coast, Manhattan Beach [Calif.], which probably leaves me a half-an-hour commute to the studio with Fox. Sundays are the days that we’re in. Every weekend I’m on the first show that Charissa [Thompson] hosts with Charles [Woodson], Mike Vick, myself, Peter Schrager. And then I’m also kind of in a rotation on the second show, the bigger show, alternating with Jimmy Johnson. I enjoy it. You definitely stay involved in the game. It’s a group that’s been together so long, they really enjoy each other’s company. It gives you a new perspective from their side of it and how it’s covered, but it’s going well.

Q: How about a typical day that’s not a game day?

A: I’m here getting a tire repaired, someone else might have taken the car (laugh) to the dealership. My daughter lives an hour from here, played a little bit more golf than normal. The biggest notable change would be one extreme to the other — one extreme being the very regimented schedule that is Monday, that is Tuesday, that is Wednesday that’s really pretty prominent in the league with itineraries; and then the exact opposite, which is today I’m running some errands, I’m trying to get caught up on some things that I have to get done. It’s much less regimented.

Q: Do you have NFL RedZone?

A: Yeah … More importantly for me is the 22, keeping up with the game. Thursday I’ll get the email relative to the show, and I enjoy watching the All-22, the coaches’ tape. So you can kind of make up your own cutups. Each week you see something that’s new, you want to take a look at it, there’s teams you study, so I’ve got that set up which is nice and convenient.


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