Dear Coach Payton:

It's been almost 72 hours since you announced that you were stepping down as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints. We would have written this letter to you sooner, but we in the Who Dat Nation are just now getting over the emotions that your announcement stirred.

Okay. Who are we kidding. We're still devastated that you're leaving. We're still fighting back tears.

Still, we're grateful for all you've done not only for our team, but also for our region.

When you came to New Orleans and Louisiana in January 2006, the team and the area were in shambles. We were still fighting the after effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Gulf South was in the midst of a massive rebuild.

So were the Saints. Our team had just come off a 3-13 season. We had no quarterback. We weren't fully convinced that Tom Benson would keep the team in the Superdome instead of moving the franchise to San Antonio. Frankly, we were a team and a fanbase on the border between purgatory and hell.

You didn't want to come here. You really wanted the job in Green Bay. But you saw something in our city. You saw something in our region. You saw something in our team. You took a chance on New Orleans and the Saints. We're glad you did.

In that first season, you, Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, and the rest of your squad gave long-suffering Saints fans and a region still healing from the prior year's storms the hope that had eluded it since August 29 of the previous year. Steve Gleason's blocked punt brought us a joy we hadn't felt in more than a year. The victory over the Atlanta Falcons during the "Domecoming" let us know that better days were around the corner.

Three years later, you did something no other Saints coach had been able to do. You and your team made pigs fly. You made hell freeze over. You led the Saints to a victory in Super Bowl XLIV.

After 43 years of futility, you brought Saints fans the joy they had desired forever. It's a joy we'll never forget.

The next 10 years were filled with lots of ups, a few downs, and the NFL shafting the you and your team on at least two occasions. We know you were the scapegoat for Bountygate. We know the "NOLA No-Call" robbed the Saints of another NFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl LIII. Still, we never lost faith that you were the right man to lead our team.

In fact, we still believed you were the right man to coach our team, especially after you put the Saints in position to make the playoffs despite Hurricane Ida, a spate of injuries--including a season-ending injury to your starting quarterback--and COVID cases your team faced. We were looking forward to seeing how you would fill the quarterback gap, who you and general manager Mickey Loomis would draft in April, and how you'd rebound from a trying season.

Instead, we'll have to wonder what would have been. We'll have to trust that your successor will live up to the standards that you have set for our team.

We get it. Sixteen years as a head coach will eventually drain you. We know you need some time to yourself and to enjoy life outside of pro football. Yes, we're sad we won't have you around and on the sidelines this coming fall, but we hope that you'll be joining Drew Brees in the broadcast booth. This way, our favorite quarterback/coach duo will be reunited again.

Until we do meet again, whether it's in the broadcast booth, on another team's sideline, or--hopefully one day--on the Saints' sideline, we thank you for all you've done. You made our team a champion. You helped New Orleans and the entire state of Louisiana recover from two of the worst natural disasters in American history. You made it cool to be a Saints fan.

Thank you, and so long.


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