Rocky's Football Corner #17

by Rick Rockwell

When they hand out the trophy for Coach of the Year in the National Football League (NFL) Sean Payton of New Orleans should be the man hoisting the award.

Yes, Payton is the fan favorite. Yes, he’s the obvious choice. So what’s wrong with that?

Over at RealFootball365, Connor Byrne has made a great case for Eric Mangini (dubbed by the New York media as Man-Genius) of the Jets, the youngest coach in the league. Byrne also lists Payton and three other potential candidates.

But let’s stay with Payton for the moment. Payton is a rookie head coach who has turned the New Orleans Saints into division winners in one year. The Saints have clinched a bye in the playoffs, something they have never done. Before the Saints, Payton was with the Dallas Cowboys as assistant head coach and helped Bill “The Tuna” Parcells revive that franchise. He was also running the offense for the New York Giants when they went to the Super Bowl during the 2000 season. Before Payton, no New Orleans Saints coach had ever won his first three games. Payton is now 10-5 and looking forward to the playoffs.

Sure, Payton got handed Reggie Bush as the overall second pick in the draft. But he had to design plays to fit Bush into an NFL offense. Just being handed talent doesn’t mean you can design an offense to use it. Look at Jim Mora’s failures in Atlanta with quarterback Michael Vick if you want an example of that. Bush has responded by rushing for 545 yards, catching 86 passes for 729 yards, and returning kicks for 216 yards; he has scored eight touchdowns. Payton’s strategy has been to primarily get Bush into the open field to use his moves there instead of tying him down as a workhorse back. He has Deuce McAllister for that and McAllister (coming off knee surgery) has responded with 1057 yards.

Payton also has Drew Brees at quarterback, a player who is having a career year after arm surgery and who many consider the league’s most valuable player. But Brees and Bush were new elements. And rookie receiver Marques Colston (70 catches for 1038 yards) was an unknown quantity. Some experts have also mentioned Colston as a rookie of the year candidate, along with Bush. Payton has pieced together a system with two great comeback players and various new talent. Also note: the entire Saints offensive line is new as starters this year.

What Payton created is a version of the University of Southern California’s offense for the NFL. This was a system where former USC star Bush could thrive. Here’s the mix: one pounded-it-out back; one speedster back; one smart quarterback with a rifle arm; a solid but mobile offensive line; and top receivers willing to go and get the ball.

Plus Payton conquered so much more this year. He helped the Saints come back from Hurricane Katrina and a year they spent mostly in exile in Texas, winning only three games. He has conquered a Saints history of mostly losing. (Sure Jim Mora – the father, not the son who is in Atlanta – and Jim Haslett also got the Saints to the playoffs, but never as the second best team in the conference.)

Give the award to Payton. He and New Orleans deserve it.

NFL Network Update: Finally, most parties have agreed to some form of accepting the NFL's free week of viewing its cable network so many fans can see the two college bowl games the league is broadcasting this year. After behaving like two-year-olds, the cable cartel and the monopoly league finally came to an adult agreement, for this week anyway.

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