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NY Post
New York Post
2 Dec 2023

NextImg:Sean Payton’s ways led to a remarkable Broncos rebound that isn’t a surprise

This was at the beginning of the week before the 2000 NFC Championship game against an explosive Daunte Culpepper-Randy Moss-Cris Carter Vikings team when Giants offensive coordinator Sean Payton delivered a statement that resonates all these years later with Tiki Barber.

“I remember him coming into our meeting on I think it was Tuesday, and he said to all of us, but specifically to Kerry [Collins], he’s like, ‘You’re gonna throw for 300 yards in the first half,” Barber recalled fondly. “He said, ‘We will destroy this defense. They play with a lead, and they’ve never been tested. And we’re gonna test ’em.’ And it was right away, right? From Kerry’s first touchdown, to the wheel route we ran with [fullback Greg] Comella, and it’s exactly what we did.”

Collins would throw for 381 yards and five TD passes that day, and a 34-0 halftime lead became a 41-0 rout that sent the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV against the Ravens.

And now, after misguidedly going scorched earth on 2022 Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett, after banning “Gilligan” bucket hats controversy in training camp, Sean Payton has reminded all of Denver and all of the NFL what an elite head coach, one who happens to make $18 million a year, looks like.

Payton didn’t arrive in Denver with any “Broncos Country Let’s Ride” marketing shtick. He arrived with pelts on the wall and the my-way-or-the-highway arrogance that was instrumental in him winning Super Bowl XLIV with Drew Brees in New Orleans.

Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton reacts in the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Empower Field. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Payton has joined the Coach of the Year race thanks to a five-game win streak, and Sunday against the DeMeco Ryans-coached Texans in Houston could be a potential tiebreaker.

“It took time, and I think getting to know Sean takes time,” Barber told Serby Says. “He’s unique. He’ll tell you everything positive, negative. He doesn’t care about how you feel about what he says, he’s just gonna tell you what he thinks is right. And sometimes that’s bristling.”

And too bad if your feelings are hurt.

“He’s cocky in a great way,” Barber said. “That’s how players are. So even if he’s bristling to you, you respect him, because he’s so supremely confident in what he’s doing. Sometimes that can come off as him being an [jerk]. But it’s just the reality of who he is, and it’s his formula and it’s worked for him.”

Barber can’t remember the year. “He basically said, ‘People think this stuff doesn’t work, but I know it works, and if they don’t like it, they can blankin’ fire me,’ ” Barber recalled. “Like he’s extremely confident in what he’s doing, and I think that helps ’cause there’s no second-guessing.”

Payton has been able to reach Russell Wilson (20 touchdowns, four interceptions) in a way that Hackett could not.

“I think it’s because he comes with a credibility of 20 years of success,” Barber said. “And he’s also like it’s-my-way-or-the- highway-type thing. Like you gotta get this fixed otherwise you’re not gonna be my quarterback. I think coaches who come with that angle hit players, even if they’re stars, with the right motivation. It’s no different than what [Tom] Coughlin did with me when he first got here: ‘You’re a great player, but you’re fumbling, you’re not playing.’ I think the same thing probably happened with Russ.”

Payton doesn’t let Russ cook. But this Russ isn’t setting the kitchen on fire.

“Russ has gotten into the mindset that he is gonna be a dropback passer and be like Matt Ryan and all these other guys when it’s not what he does well,” Barber said. “And so I think what Sean had been able to do with Russ is just re-simplify it for him. And put him in position to be successful. He’s making Russ do what Russ is good at, which is extend plays, and find in off-schedule situations the best play. That’s what he did in Seattle for years, and now he’s finally doing it again. It’s not like he’s gonna win the MVP, but it is productive.”

Payton has remained an obsessive football junkie who does not suffer fools easily.

“We were trying to do dummy counts,” Barber recalled. “Guys kept jumping offsides. He knew that it would work because it helps the defense identify to us what they’re gonna do, and then we can change the play or whatnot.

“He got so pissed. I remember him screaming at us and basically saying: ‘There are 100 women across the river at Radio City Music Hall who can lift their legs at the same time, and you guys can’t effing stay onside.’ ”

Russell Wilson celebrates with fans after the game against the Cleveland Browns at Empower Field. Getty Images

To Payton, no detail is not important.

“We would install all the time, and I would get bored,” Barber said. “I remember one time I was looking at my sidekick, that flip phone device, and he called me out, it was like, ‘Tiki, am I boring you?’ I was like, ‘Well, kind of. I already know this, Coach.’ He was like, ‘You get up here and teach it.’ So he made me get up there and teach it, like install it. It was actually a great way of keeping me involved.”

Barber is a modern-era semifinalist for the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame. He had two of his six 1,000-plus yard seasons with Payton from 2000-02 when he became the dual-threat “Lightning” to Ron Dayne’s “Thunder.”

“He coached Marshall Faulk in college [San Diego State],” Barber said. “He thought that maybe I could do the same. And because he changed our offense that way and the whole Thunder and Lightning thing when he wanted me in the game versus when he wanted Ron in the game, it allowed me to become the player that I became. If he doesn’t change and we’re just running between the tackles, like Giants football did for decades, I’m a bit player in Giants history.”

Bill Parcells recruited Payton to Dallas in 2003 as assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach. The lessons he learned under Parcells became evident to Jets punter Thomas Morstead, who joined Payton with the Saints in 2009.

“If he felt like some of the older guys were slacking or not bringing some of the energy, he’d have empty gas cans sitting in all the old players’ lockers,” Morstead told Serby Says.

Payton demanded accountability from everyone in the building.

“Nobody felt comfortable, I think, in the building,” Morstead said. “And I would say that’s for all areas of the building, not just the locker room. Guys knew if they weren’t being accountable and doing their job, they’d be out, he’d find somebody else. The equipment room, if they weren’t operating at the highest level, he’s gonna find somebody who is. Trainers, cafeteria people, anybody who’s not operating and doing things at the highest level and trying to get better, he was just not accepting of that.”

Payton is expert at devising the best possible plan for each week’s opponent.

“On Wednesdays he would paint a very clear picture to the whole team of how we were gonna win that week’s game,” Morstead said. “I remember being a rookie in ’09 and we were gonna play Buffalo on the road. It was Week 3, and he looked right at me, and he said, ‘Hey guys, it’s OK, we’re gonna punt quite a bit this week, but that’s gonna be the way we’re gonna win the game.’ We felt like we had a really strong advantage on our defense relative to their offense, so it was gonna be a little more of a conservative offensive game plan, and we were gonna play field position, and I think we beat ’em 27-7 and they only scored on a field goal fake.”

Morstead executed a successful onside kick to open the second half in Super Bowl XLIV. “He very clearly said we were gonna run it in the game,” Morstead said. “The night before the game he said, ‘We are going to do this. It’s just not if we do it, it’s just when.’ But I didn’t believe him.”

He should have. Payton — suspended for the 2012 season in the Bountygate scandal — has no fear of the consequences.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton reacts during an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Caesars Superdome. Getty Images

“He wasn’t gonna have any regrets about being too aggressive or saying they didn’t go for it,” Morstead said, “and we were going against Peyton Manning and the Colts, who had been phenomenal that year.”

Payton can be charming and he can be cutthroat if anything gets in the way of winning.

“I think he is extraordinarily demanding,” Morstead said. “I think he’s a bit of a master psychologist. He knows how to hit different guys’ buttons. I think he knows how to get the most out of people. If you’re the No. 1 player on the team or the 53rd guy on the team, he’ll fine you for being late. I think he’s got a way of developing culture that’s pretty unique.

“I don’t think he compromises some of those things when it comes to the type of people he allows in the locker room,” Morstead said. “I think he understands human nature, and he will go opposite what you may think would be coming.

“An example would be if we were getting ready to play a really good team. The energy in the building the week of that game was not we gotta be this sort of high intensity. He knew he wasn’t gonna have to ramp anybody up because you knew what was at stake. If we were playing a team that we should beat by two or three touchdowns, he was a pain in the butt all week, because he knew that naturally guys could just relax and think, ‘This one’s in the bag.’ And he just didn’t allow that.”

The Broncos sent the Saints the No. 29 pick of the 2023 draft (DT Bryan Bresee) and a 2024 second-rounder in exchange for Payton and a 2024 third-rounder. A Rocky Mountain High Five for the Denver Broncos.