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Sean Payton drew a line in the sand and that’s a good thing

This could be the rebirth of the winning culture Denver is used to

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Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Denver Post via Getty Images

There has been a glaring hole in the Denver Broncos’ organization ever since they won Super Bowl 50 in 2016: a lack of a competent head coach. Their 44-70 record since that year and the fact that the franchise has gone through three (four if you want to include Jerry Rosburg) head coaches in seven years drives this point home. The only thing that has been consistent with the head coach position is how bad every one of them has been.

Obviously, their win record, or lack thereof, is proof of this, but the problem Denver has faced has gone much deeper than that. There’s been a fog that has formed over the mile high city and it reeks of a miserable team culture. They have become the laughingstock of the NFL.

“It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed.”

Sean Payton is already taking steps to break the cloud, and what he said on Thursday should bring hope to fans everywhere.

It started when Payton first took over at the helm and brought sweeping changes across the board. Whether it was fully removing Russell Wilson’s office and personal coaches (an act that was started by Rosburg), having the team keep a low profile with the media, and a new brand standard when it comes to operating procedures around practice.

“Now, a quarterback having an office and a place to watch film is normal. But all those things get magnified when you’re losing. And that other stuff, I’ve never heard of it. We’re not doing that.”

“Hey, we are going to be on time,” he said. “We’re going to learn how rewarding it is to play for each other, compete for each other, rather than for ourselves. And I expect us to think playoffs.”

The next big step came on Thursday with an interview on USA Today where he made clear his expectations for the team and took some shots at the prior coaching staff.

The first line that he drew comes from when he said, “I’m going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team.” Now there’s a boldness that Payton is known for and what this franchise needs. A way to change the culture is by setting a new expectation. Especially after a time when there really hasn’t been one. This is what every player and coach should be striving for, and to fall short is nothing less than a complete failure.

The next line he drew ended up being the most controversial one; which is a good thing. Calling out Nathaniel Hackett made a lot of people mad, including people within the organization, but at the same time, it vindicated Broncos fans, players, and likely other staff members, past or present.

Benjamin Allbright reported this:

And former Broncos offensive lineman Billy Turner, who has played on Hackett’s offense for years, wasn’t too happy about these comments either.

Payton went scorched earth on the former head coach saying things like, “Everything I heard about last season, we’re doing the opposite,” and, “It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”

He would go on to, maybe not ‘call out’ the Jets, but he didn’t shy away from mentioning them by name.

When speaking about how much effort the Broncos put into their PR and media last year and how it backfired, he said, “We’re not doing any of that. The Jets did that this year. You watch. ‘Hard Knocks,’ all of it. I can see it coming.”

Head coach of the Jets, Robert Saleh would respond with, “Well, I’m not going to acknowledge Sean on that. You know, he’s been in the league a while. He can say whatever the hell he wants,” and, “But as far as what we have going on here, I kind of live by the saying, ‘If you ain’t got no haters, you ain’t popping,’ so hate away.”

In the span of only a few hours, Sean Payton was able to tick off most of the New York media (and New Jersey too), tick off former players, surprise and anger current members of the organization, and get the Broncos back into the spotlight of the NFL media train.

It’s risky, but if Sean Payton is anything, it’s calculated. He is intentional with everything that he does, and these comments aren’t any different. It was clearly his intention to ruffle everyone’s feathers, while at the same time, proving to his players and staff that he means business. Payton isn’t here just to collect a Wal-Mart-sized paycheck, but he’s here to turn a flailing football team back into a real contender. And it doesn’t matter if he puts a target on his back in the process.

And at the very least, he has made the Broncos’ week 5 matchup with the Jets, which features Hackett’s return to Denver, a lot more interesting.

I am thrilled that Denver finally has a coach again who cares about the franchise, his players, and his staff, and firmly establishing a winning culture. The team desperately needs an identity and I believe that Payton is giving them one.

Authors note: This was written before Payton stated that he regretted these comments. I’m not sure if I buy his total remorse as he may just be trying to save a little face for the organization. No matter what, he said what he said and I still air on the side of believing he meant every word, even after recanting on Friday.