NFL coaches can be big jerks. Sean Payton is an NFL coach. Thus, Sean Payton can be a big jerk.
That pretty much summarizes the latest Outside The Lines report regarding the Saints, from ESPN’s John Barr.
We’ve heard the stories over the years. Payton can be arrogant and vindictive and mean spirited when dealing with the media. And, yes, he has done some things that are over the top — as his one-year suspension confirms.
So have other coaches.
It doesn’t make it right. But it goes with the territory. And it flows from the physical, rough-and-tumble nature of the sport.
“He wanted every player on the team to have swag,” former Saints defensive end Charles Grant said of Payton. “Even if you was in the front office, he wanted you to have swag.”
The Saints have dealt with a series of problems in recent years, many of which flow from the fact that former employees (who possibly didn’t have enough “swag”) are sufficiently unhappy with the team to file lawsuits and talk to reporters and, in the case of the bounty investigation, blow the whistle to the league. This means that, at one or more levels, the Saints have a chronic people problem that they need to solve.
The Saints also made the poor decision (and they’ll surely admit it in hindsight) to associate with Mike Ornstein, who as we’ve been told even had a locker at the team’s facility. “We were trying to get rid of him,” an unnamed league official told Barr regarding Ornstein, “because frankly he’s a cancer.”
If the league office had been trying to get rid of Ornstein, they didn’t do a good enough job of it. And the common theory in league circles is that, if/when Ornstein becomes sufficiently disgruntled with the league office, he could bring others down with him.
During the report, Barr explained that he received a “threatening phone call from an anonymous caller wondering why were were out to dig up information about the Saints.” Barr said it was later determined that the call came from team spokesman Greg Bensel’s cell phone. Bensel denied to Barr that Bensel made the call, and Bensel didn’t say who had.
Of course, Barr didn’t mention — at all — his apparent swing and a miss regarding the report that G.M. Mickey Loomis had the ability in 2002 to eavesdrop on opposing coaches. It’s possible that the “threatening phone call” came at or about the time Barr dropped that misplaced bombshell, and it’s believed within the Saints organization (we’re told) that the Loomis story was all Barr could find after being sent to New Orleans to somehow, some way advance the ball on a bounty story that had percolated for two years, right under the noses of ESPN’s journalistic army.
Barr also didn’t say how the call was “threatening.” What was the specific threat? No more access for ESPN? Physical violence? Possible dumping into a cold tub?
It’s almost as if the reporting has become personal. That ESPN is playing the “don’t mess with the guy who buys his ink by the truckload” card.
Yes, that’s a real dynamic in the media. And it’s important for media outlets to try to strike the right balance between editorial decisions based on whether the story is truly newsworthy or whether, as in this case, ESPN simply wanted to give the Saints a taste of their own medicine.