NEW ORLEANS — It was Brooks & Dunn who first sang You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.That’s right. The Jimmy Johnson song.Or, as they learned at the Superdome much more profoundly last season, the Sean Payton song.Flush in the success of his 1990s Dallas Cowboys, owner Jerry Jones once pickledly remarked, “Any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls.”The 19 Jimmy-less seasons since that boast have resoundingly proven otherwise, of course.Coaches matter. And when an NFL team finds a successful one, it’s wise to hold onto him, even if, as in the New Orleans Saints’ case, it had to pay the coach $40 million to keep him.Payton signed his new contract, the richest in league history, last December, keeping him on the Saints’ sideline through the 2017 season. The negotiations stirred fans’ anxieties to approaching-storm levels, especially when moneybags Jones’ name became involved.But who was Saints owner Tom Benson bluffing? Benson made his first fortune with auto dealerships. What was the holdup — Payton didn’t want the Clear Coat and the extended warranty?He may have lost a few months’ pay because of his Bountygate suspension, but Payton’s value rose nonetheless during his 2012 exile. Coaches matter. With Payton suspended, the Saints began the season with four consecutive defeats and finished 7-9.The rest of America didn’t get it. To self-righteous bloggers and talk radio hosts, Bountygate exposed a barbaric defensive philosophy in which evil intent was rewarded. To those of us smart enough, on the other hand, to see through the NFL commissioner’s disingenuous charges, it was a case of Roger Goodell singling out the Saints for something a lot of other teams were doing. Payton made an easy target, because he denied the bounty system existed, and it turned out that Goodell had an email that suggested otherwise.In Louisiana, where politicians regularly get sent to the Crossbar Condos for transgressions far more serious than a rough hit on Brett Favre, they couldn’t print the “Free Sean Payton” T-shirts fast enough.He was gone for a season, but far from forgotten. At the Saints’ suburban practice facility, a giant banner of Payton was hung, Kim Jong-il-like, above bold letters that ordered, “Do Your Job.”I’m trying to imagine what a banner of Jason Garrett might say at Valley Ranch. Hmm.“Execute All Three Phases”?Speaking to the Palm Beach Post earlier this season, Saints quarterback Drew Brees tried to simply define Payton’s worth.“He’s a great teacher, motivator and mentor,” Brees said, “as well as being a great head coach. “He has an excellent pulse of the team at all times, and he knows the right message to deliver to our squad.”Payton, let me suggest, brings much more to the sideline than that, $8-million-a-year more. He combines dynamic play-calling with being, one could argue, the best quarterback coach in the league. In any discussion of the NFL’s best current coaches — Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid —Payton’s name belongs.The Saints’ resurgence this season is testimony to how much Payton was missed a year ago. The new T-shirt on the streets here read, “Redemp-SEAN.”Coaches matter. Any NFL owner who thinks otherwise, who couldn’t keep Jimmy Johnson or Bill Parcells happy, is just spinning his team’s wheels.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton