ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Sean Payton showed up to FOX Sports’ NFL pregame show two weeks ago wearing an orange tie, Broncos fans wondered if Payton was trying to send them a message.
In his introductory press conference as the team’s new head coach, Payton confirmed their theory that his outfit meant something.
“It did. It did,” Payton said. “Some of you caught it and that’s the type of thing I’m thinking of. This pocket tissue I’m wearing is at an angle going upwards if you can see it. The horse is at an angle going upward. This morning when I put it on, it was kind of symbolic of the direction we’re heading right now.”
Maybe Payton was serious about his wardrobe choices. Maybe his answer was tongue-in-cheek. But those meticulous little decisions were part of why Broncos part-owner and CEO Greg Penner chose him to be the next head coach.
“As I called around and talked to others around the league, it kept coming up; It’s attention to detail,” Penner said. “That level of attention to detail is what makes for winning organizations.”
The past three Broncos head coaches have struggled to make the jump from assistant coach to head coach. Head coaches aren’t just worried about the X’s and O’s, they have to make major decisions around the entire organization. Head coaches are CEOs as much as they are football coaches.
“If we are maniacal with the details on the field, then we have to be that way in every other element—the training room, the weight room, how we approach ticket sales,” Payton said. “Everything matters. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s only this that’s important.’ Everything matters.”
Payton sold the Broncos on his 15-year track record as an NFL head coach. He carried the Saints from consistent irrelevance to perennial contenders and brought a Lombardi Trophy to New Orleans.
NFL fans know all about the offense Payton built in New Orleans, which was one of the most prolific in NFL history. They might not know about what happened behind the scenes, like when the Saints handed out towels to fans for a playoff game.
“I like when every towel is in a seat,” Payton said. “[There are] 70,000 and it’s distracting.”
But before one of the games, the towels the team was planning to provide were too small. Payton didn’t think they would be distracting enough.
“The towels we handed out were kind of like the napkins you get after you’ve had seafood,” Payton said.
So he convinced management to get bigger towels.
“Everything matters,” he said. “How we traveled. How we celebrated in the locker room. We brought a $30,000-dollar stereo system—Club Dub. We thought it was important, especially on the road, that everyone could hear our locker room celebrating and say, ‘What is going on in there?’ That is creating culture.”
Payton made the majority of these decisions, as well as decisions about the draft or free agency, alongside Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. Now, he’ll be working with Broncos GM George Paton to turn around the Broncos.
Paton says he and Payton have been on the same page since they met two weeks ago, and that they’ve been working closely together since Payton accepted the job.
“I would pick him up at the hotel at 6 a.m. and be here late into the evening,” Paton said of Payton’s first few days as a Bronco. “I don’t know if we need to move our offices closer, but I have spent a lot of time in his office, and he has spent a lot of time in mine. Obviously, this is a honeymoon period. We have a lot of work to do, but I do think we have similar philosophies and similar visions of how to build this team. That starts today.”
Payton and Paton have their work cut out for them as they try to fix a 5-12 Broncos team.