METAIRIE, La. — In Sean Payton’s first year as a head coach in the NFL, he took his Saints’ to the old Texas Stadium where he faced the Cowboys and, more importantly, Bill Parcells, his mentor.
Five seasons later, Payton heads back to Dallas, only this time, he’s the mentor and the Dallas coach is the understudy.
Jason Garrett took over for Wade Phillips after the eighth game and today, when the Cowboys host the Saints, New Orleans will go for its fourth-consecutive win while trying to keep Dallas from a third straight victory.
Payton said it was only a matter of time that Garrett took over as the point man for an NFL franchise.
“As a player, he would be the one guy when the meeting would be over with that I might as what he thought and he’d have great feedback, great insight and I always valued his opinion because it was well thought out and it was usually right,” Payton said.
Just like Payton, Garrett has quickly changed the fortunes of the team he took over. While Payton took a 3-13 franchise and turned it into a 10-6 division champ, Garrett’s success won’t be overwhelming.
At least not immediately. The Cowboys are 3-7 heading into this Thanksgiving Day affair.
Payton’s mentorship began in New York when he was with the Giants and signed Garrett as a backup quarterback. The relationship moved to Dallas when both were with the Cowboys.
“It wasn’t long after that as we got into the coach-player relationship that you understood that he had some great attributes that if he chose, would lend themselves to coaching,” Payton said.
Indeed, Garrett is proving in the short-term at least to be the exact tonic a talented team and preseason Super Bowl contenders needed.
The Cowboys have avenged an earlier loss to the Giants, winning 33-20 in Garrett’s first game as the interim head coach. They followed that up with a 35-19 win over Detroit.
Several Saints players said it appears, at least from watching Dallas during film study, that the Cowboys are playing harder and better than they were when they started 1-7 under Phillips.
“These last two weeks I think they’ve played as well as any team in the league and I think we knew it was only a matter of time before they turned it around and got things figured out and started playing with more confidence,” Drew Brees said.
Payton still keeps in touch with Garrett, calling him one of his good friends in the industry. But watching his understudy coach now sends one message to the Saints’ leader – “It ages me,” Payton joked.
“I consider him a friend,” Garrett said. “I definitely consider him a mentor. I really, really cherish those experiences we had together. I really learned a tremendous amount really on a daily basis on so many different things. Certainly he’s influenced me immensely as a coach.”
Saints fans can only hope that Payton once again gets the upper hand against the Cowboys in Dallas.