This week, Sean Payton dropped a nuclear bomb on the NFL by criticizing Nathaniel Hackett, the former head coach of the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, for “trying to win the offseason.” In an interview with Jarrett Bell of USA Today, Payton said Hackett’s work in Denver last year was probably “one of the worst coaching jobs in NFL history.”
Some of the national media criticized Payton, but mostly the New York market and Jets offensive lineman Billy Turner, who played for the Broncos twice and called Payton a “f*cking bum” as a response. Turner is also Hackett’s best friend. Even though what Payton said was true, he didn’t care who he was talking about. He painted everyone, including Broncos GM George Paton and those even higher up in the team’s executive office, with the same brush when he talked about how bad 2022 was.
Payton also strongly defended Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, laughing off the idea that he’s washed and blaming “the parents,” so to speak, for the kid getting off track because they “allowed” it to happen. But Payton’s defense of Wilson was by far the strongest one he has made in public since becoming the head coach in Denver.
On Friday, the first day of Broncos training camp, Payton sang a different tune when he talked to the media after practice.
“It was one of those times when I was still wearing my FOX hat instead of my coaching hat, “Payton told us. “I told the team yesterday at the meeting that, compared to that, we had a great offseason. I’ve been preaching this message, and now I’m stepping in it as a veteran. It gave me something to think about. It was, of course, a mistake. I could have used a little more filter.”
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Payton said that his new players in Denver had to deal with criticism and insults because of the obvious mistakes made last year. This is why he aired his dirty laundry and criticized Hackett and the Jets. Hackett is now the offensive coordinator for the Jets and is in charge of the Aaron Rodgers experiment.
“There’s a pound of flesh for these guys,” Payton said. “As a coach, you have to stand up for them.” “We’re past that season from last year after a while. I said what I had to say. I should have been more careful, and I regret that. So, I told the team I thought I was pretty good at working with the media and smart. I had one of those times just now.”
Payton explained more about how he let his guard down and maybe didn’t realize how serious his words were. He also talked about whether it was a good idea for one of the biggest sports publications in the country to put him under the bright light of public scrutiny.
“Jarrett Bell is a good friend and a great reporter for USA Today,” Payton said. “I had two lattes when I woke up. I see him first, and forty minutes later, I’m sorry I did. What it is, is.”
One strange thing about Payton’s outburst in USA Today was how it was put next to his order to Broncos players to be “anonymous donors” this offseason, which means to stay out of the spotlight, keep their heads down, and “do the work.” Since Payton took over as head coach of the Broncos, he has also made it much harder for the media to talk to players during the offseason and cover the team.
So, Payton’s words to Bell might have seemed hypocritical, but he didn’t say anything untrue. People can argue whether his prediction about how the Jets’ “blockbuster” offseason will turn out is correct, but everything he said about the 2022 Broncos and the “stink” on the hands of so many people who did wrong is true.
Payton’s public scandal, if nothing else, drew a line in the sand and made a big difference between the old regime and the new one. It should have gotten the players fired up, and given the Broncos a little boost as the Payton era in Denver begins with training camp.