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New coach Sean Payton promises accountability, new culture as he takes over Broncos

CEO Greg Penner: 'We wanted to get it right and we did.'
Broncos Payton Football
Posted at 12:25 PM, Feb 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-06 22:20:39-05

ENGLEWOOD — Fans began flocking to social media, life's echo chamber of angst, to celebrate a new beginning. Some tweeted photo-shopped pictures. Others marked it with GIFs with visors. And a few just posted 100! in red letters.

There was no game on Monday, a month removed from the most forgettable season in Broncos history. This only improved the mood and heightened the optimism.

For the fifth time in eight years, the Broncos introduced a new coach, holding a presser for Sean Payton. He represents the first coach since Gary Kubiak to arrive with experience.

"We found the perfect coach," CEO Greg Penner said. "Thank you for your patience Broncos Country. We wanted to get it right and we did."

The Broncos have harbored delusions of adequacy for seven years, missing the playoffs every season with six losing records. They failed to reach relevancy in the final weeks, the spoiler role matching the embarrassment on the field and last year, with teammates bickering multiple times, on the sideline.

"Throughout the process of interviewing, it came back to the triangle: front office, ownership, passionate fan base," Payton said of the fit.

Payton was brought in as a winner, and a cleaner. He turned a 3-13 New Orleans Saints around in 2006, going 10-6. This is why Payton was such an important acquisition — the Broncos sent a first-round pick this year and a second round pick in 2024 for the coach and a third-round pick — in turning Denver around. He promises accountability and a cultural change so desperately needed.

"Law and order, as [longtime NFL head coach] Bill Parcells said. You are coming in with your standard. It’s kind of one of those things where you knock the rearview off and move forward," Payton said. "Discipline and toughness. And football makeup and character will be very important. And it's not for everyone. ... I don’t like making predictions. But it's realistic to expect a completely different type of culture."

Analysis: Does Sean Payton's experience set Broncos up for success?

Even for those excited about Payton's arrival, a healthy skepticism exists because of the Broncos' recent past and their issues at quarterback. It appeared the Broncos solved the problem with the trade for Russell Wilson, and it could not have gone more poorly. Wilson posted the worst season of his career — 16 touchdowns,11 interceptions, 4-11 record — and never clicked with former coach Nathaniel Hackett, who clearly struggled to put up guardrails for Wilson.

"It's about putting players in position to succeed. I know Russell Wilson," said Payton, who prides himself on being a good game manager and indicated he won't need the home crowd to count down the play clock for him. "And I know he's an extremely hard worker."

Payton said he was unaware that Wilson had his personal quarterbacks coach who attended practice last season. Payton said that concept "is foreign to him," and would not happen with his coaching staff.

Payton has a pre-existing relationship with Wilson and comes from the Parcells philosophy of instilling fear and consequences, even for quarterbacks.

"You have to be authentic. I can't try to be Bill (Parcells). I have to be who I am. I can laugh at myself. I can be wrong. I can be humble, and I can be confident," Payton said. "I know what it looks like and I know what it doesn't look like. Sometimes, we are not asking. Sometimes it is not negotiable."

Broncos introduce new head coach Sean Payton

What makes the Payton hiring fascinating is how it will affect Denver's power structure. General manager George Payton was brought in to fix the Broncos, but is now on his third coach — he was obligated to keep Vic Fangio when he took the job. The Hackett fizzle and Wilson slump landed squarely on Paton's doorstep, who accepted responsibility for last season's debacle when Penner fired Hackett the day after Christmas.

However, Paton helped keep the coaching search on track — it was a fascinating route to the finish line with Jim Harbaugh and DeMeco Ryans viewed as favorites at different times, in part, because of the draft-pick compensation for Payton.

How will the Paton and Payton law firm work together?

"I met him for the first time when we interviewed him. And I felt like we have been aligned," Paton said.

Added Payton, "I feel like I’ve got good instincts, and I feel like there’s a demeanor with him that reminds me of Mickey (Loomis) in a good way. Very steady. I’ve always respected the teams that he’s been a part of."

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Payton, who is quickly putting a coaching staff together and watching film on the Broncos, finished his press conference then took questions for 10 minutes from the local press. He said he missed coaching, and that he's ready for this challenge while completing some quick TV work this week for FOX in Los Angeles and at the Super Bowl this weekend.

But, make no mistake, he's all in — from his Broncos tie — he did wear an orange one on FOX to send a message about the Broncos — and his pocket square pointing upward.

"It's about winning," said Payton of what he wants his legacy to be in Denver. "Winning. Winning."