Payton Saint Of New Orleans

regulations. 

Want to eat yourself out of shape? You can do it there. Want to party all night? There are places which never close. Want to gamble? There's a casino right downtown. As Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells says, and maybe even taught Payton, there are a lot of exits to the NFL. 

"Character, toughness, discipline and turnovers," Payton would say one day. "Those are things that keep you from winning games regardless of what town you're in. This is a tough town to accomplish some of the things you want to in football because you have some distractions. You can go down to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. You have casinos. You have the daiquiri stands. 

"There are a lot of distractions, so hopefully you bring the right type of player in here who understands what's important." 

He began with the quarterback, signing Drew Brees to a six-year, $60 million deal, banking on extensive shoulder surgery leaving five-year veteran as good as new. Brees ends up the NFL MVP runner-up. 

He quickly signs former Cowboys outside linebacker Scott Fujita, who not only earns the starting strong-side backer job, but becomes a symbol for hard work, big plays and leadership on what appeared during that preseason game against the Cowboys in Shreveport, La., a shabby defense. 

Why, before all was said and done, Payton changes out 27 players from last year's team. 

Now did he get lucky in a few cases? How else to describe Reggie Bush landing in his lap, unless the ghost of Huey Long bribed those Texans into taking Mario Williams instead? How else to describe landing wide receiver Marques Colston in the seventh round, out of Hofstra no less; the rookie finishing with 70 catches, for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns? If not for him, the Saints never trade veteran wideout Donte Stallworth to Philly for starting inside linebacker Mark Simoneau. 

And on top of all that, Payton gets veteran running back Deuce McAllister back good as new following reconstructive knee surgery, along with a selfless attitude which allows him to incorporate Bush into the offense without any friction. 

"He doesn't seem like a first-year coach," Brees would say. 

That right there might be the amazing part of this transformation from nine-year NFL assistant to first-time NFL head coach and NFL Coach of the Year. Even though he serves as the team's offensive coordinator and play-caller, he seems to understand the big picture. Even though he could play the good cop to players as an assistant, he has displayed the indifferent cold-heartedness necessary of a head coach. 

There have been other Cowboys assistant coaches to become NFL head coaches since owner Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. Dave Wannstedt spent six years with the Bears, but he never won a division title, never got the club into a playoff game and two 9-7 seasons were the best he could do. And while his five seasons at Miami were better, Wannstedt never could get the Dolphins over the playoff hump, winning a first-round playoff game in 2000 but never advancing the Dolphins to an AFC championship game. 

Same with Norv Turner in Washington. In seven seasons, Turner only once got the Redskins into the playoffs, winning his first postseason game in 1999 and then watching his chance to advance to the NFC title game vanish in a poor snap on the potential game-winning field-goal attempt. He would never have a chance his two years with the Raiders. 

Butch Davis, after great success at the University of Miami, just couldn't turn the corner in four seasons with Cleveland, losing his only playoff game. David Shula could never come up with a winning record in 5½ seasons in Cincinnati.  

And then there is Dave Campo, who unfortunately inherited the Cowboys' salary-cap mess during his three seasons as head coach (2000-02), going in 5-11 in each of his three seasons. 

But, here is Payton, after spending three seasons with Parcells in Dallas, and turning down the Oakland job in 2004, smack-dab in the middle of the NFC Championship - again, the very first in the Saints' 40-year history. 

Fortuitous? 

"This guy was not an accident," says John Wooten, former Cowboys scout and player personnel guy who works with the Fritz Pollard

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