New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton has announced his departure after 16 years in charge.
Payton, 58, took over in New Orleans in 2006, just months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
He oversaw a remarkable turnaround, turning a losing side into Super Bowl champions in the 2009 season.
The Saints narrowly missed out on this year’s playoffs despite posting a 9-8 winning season following the retirement of veteran quarterback Drew Brees.
At an emotional news conference, Payton did not rule out a return to coaching.
“I still have a vision for doing things in football and that might be coaching again at some point in the future, but that’s not where my heart is right now,” he said before appearing to choke back tears.
The 58-year-old thanked Brees, saying he had spoken to him about the decision the previous night.
He also thanked the media, with whom his relationship has been up and down since the infamous ‘Bountygate’ scandal where he was accused of rewarding his players for injuring opponents, and suspended for the 2012 season.
“When you come in as a young coach you make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “Hopefully in my latter years you have found me very open and eager to please – that’s what the jelly and ice cream is for every Christmas.”
The Saints were 3-13 the season before he took over and had never been to a Super Bowl before. The Superdome, home to the Saints, was used as a shelter during Katrina, and the Saints’ Super Bowl victory a few years later was seen as going some way to healing the traumas of the disaster.
“On behalf of our entire organisation, I have the highest appreciation for what Sean Payton has meant to the New Orleans Saints since 2006,” said Saints owner Gayle Benson.
“Sean came to New Orleans during what was a difficult time for our organisation, as well as the entire region following Hurricane Katrina.
“Under his leadership, Sean helped lead this football team to new heights with easily its most successful period, showing what can be accomplished with a combination of vision, hard work, and leadership of his coaching staff and players.”
With star quarterback Brees, Payton took the side to the play-offs on nine occasions. Without Brees, and depleted by Covid, the Saints missed out this year with a weakened side going into the final weeks of the regular season.
“My parents talked all the time about leaving a place better than when you got there,” Payton concluded. “And I think we’ve done that.”