Payton facing old mentor

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2006

It’s become a recurring theme in the NFL, the teacher vs. pupil matchup, and one new Saints coach Sean Payton knows he’ll be dealing with all week.

In Payton’s rookie season as a head coach, it happens that the Saints have to play this Sunday at Dallas, where Payton was an assistant under Bill Parcells for the past three seasons.

“He was an important part of my coaching career. So, I am able to lean on him and my experiences with him,” Payton said Monday. “It’s been valuable for me and it’s not a new story and it’s happened throughout the years, a coach going back to coach against a coach who was a big influence on his life.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Payton would rather focus on the real reason their game has been moved to prime time on Sunday night. Both teams have surged to the top of their respective divisions.

“What’s most important is that you have two teams that are 8-4,” Payton said. “Two teams that have put themselves in a position, and I emphasize that, put themselves in position to play for a ninth win and at this stretch of the season. That’s what it is.”

The Saints won their second straight game on Sunday, defeating San Francisco 34-10 behind strong games from Reggie Bush (four TDs, 168 total yards), Deuce McAllister (136 yards rushing) and the defense (four sacks, 202 total yards allowed).

The victory guaranteed that the latest first-time coach to come out of a Parcells staff won’t have a losing record in his rookie season.

The Saints are on the brink of a playoff berth now. But Payton, who gave his players Monday afternoon off as he has several times after a victory this season, wasn’t ready to discuss the postseason yet or whether he considered the Dallas game a big one in the playoff chase.

“We’re far from that. It’s a significant game because it’s a (conference game) and it gives us chance to get a ninth win,” Payton said. “Down the road it may have some significance. There’s a lot of meat on the bone still.”

Payton isn’t necessarily a Parcells disciple. He spent a decade in the league as an assistant coach, and only the last three with the Big Tuna.

Before that, he spent time on the staffs of Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Jim Fassel with the New York Giants.

But Payton does not deny that he considered his time with Parcells an important part of his development as a coach. He made a study of how the two-time Super Bowl champion coach handles various aspects of running a football team, whether it be making weekly practice and meeting schedules, enforcing discipline or motivating players.

“He is tough and I think he has a great grasp of finding the right buttons within each player to get them to play their best game and understanding that those buttons aren’t always the same,” Payton said. “And it’s not just the players, but the coaches, the trainers, the scouts. Those are things that you observe right away.”

It is not clear whether Payton, who’s specialty is running the offense, will have all of his offensive weapons at his disposal next Sunday.

Leading receiver Marques Colston has missed most of the last three games with a sprained left ankle and has been listed as questionable the past two weeks. Joe Horn aggravated a nagging groin injury on his first catch against the 49ers in the first quarter and did not play again. Payton said it was premature to comment on their condition before the first injury report comes out on Wednesday.

So as much as the scheming contest between the teacher and pupil will be a theme, Payton stressed that there remains much out of each coach’s control.

“The whole matching wits thing sounds like Madden 07,” Payton said, referring to the popular video game. “We are getting a team ready to play a game and a lot goes into that.

“It’s exciting to play in games like this. When you start to win games then there will be another big game … So the next thing you know, you have played in seven of the biggest games of the year and this is an important game.”