Sean Payton enters the 2010 season as the high-profile coach of the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
Five years ago, he was an assistant coach of the Dallas Cowboys and angling for his first head coaching gig in the NFL. Raiders managing general partner Al Davis had first crack.
At the time, I contacted Maurice Carthon, who also worked for the Cowboys, in an attempt to see how the interview went.
Carthon told me, without prompting, that Payton had accepted the job and was on his way to Oakland as the successor to Norv Turner in 2005. That was before Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and then-coach Bill Parcells had their say.
Jones gave Payton a $500,000 raise, and he and Parcells persuaded Payton to stick around and wait for a better opportunity. Sure enough, it came in 2006, when he was hired by the Saints.
Davis kept Norv Turner as his coach, and Turner stayed one more season in a 9-23 stint over two seasons.
Parcells, along with former Raiders coaches Bill Callahan, Jon Gruden and John Fox, reportedly discouraged Payton from accepting the Raiders job.
In a new book just released, called “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life”, Payton recounted the events of his interview with Davis thusly.
A day after he agreed to coach the Raiders, Jones called and invited Payton to his house for a face-to-fact chat.
“If Jerry’s the last guy you see before you make a decision, you’re probably going to stay with him,” Payton says in his book.
So it was that Payton called his wife, Beth, and his agent after meeting with Parcells and informed them that he was staying with the Cowboys. The new contract came along with his decision to stick around.
In another fascinating anecdote, Payton recalled his interview with Davis in Alameda.
Payton says that Davis conducted the interview while wearing a black sweat suit. Nothing else about the process went as expected, either, according to Payton.
“Al is an extremely talented football guy. Few owners who interview can really talk about a defensive front, team travel and the salary cap,” Payton said. “He can hit on all these topics.”
Payton was a relative NFL neophyte at the time. Meeting with an NFL icon such as Davis made Payton more than a tad nervous.
“I walked into the bathroom, and I took three deep breaths,” Payton said. “I said: ‘I belong here. I belong here. I belong here.’ ”
The interview lasted into the night, which prompted Davis to suggest that they grab a quick meal.
“You like cheeseburgers?” Davis asked Payton.
“Of course I do,” Payton said.
Davis ordered an assistant to make a McDonald’s run for some cheeseburgers and some cole slaw from Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“The assistant says, ‘Mr. Davis, McDonald’s doesn’t have cole slaw,’ ” Payton said.”But Al wanted his cole slaw, so the assistant had to figure out what to do. So we’re sitting there — mind you, it’s about 11 p.m. — eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers and cole slaw from KFC. You know what a cold cheeseburger tastes like?”
In a strange twist, the Raiders now are coached by Tom Cable, who worked on the coaching staff at San Diego State with Payton in 1989 and remains a close friend of Payton’s.
You can bet that Cable and Payton have plenty of Davis tales to share whenever they get together for a beer or two and, perhaps, a cold cheeseburger and some cole slaw.