ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Broncos coach Sean Payton said Friday he regrets disparaging his predecessor in an interview in which he called the work Nathaniel Hackett and his staff did in Denver last season “one of the worst coaching jobs in the NFL” and said there were “20 dirty hands” around Russell Wilson's career-worst season.
“Listen, I had one of those moments where I still had my Fox hat on and not my coaching hat,” said Payton, who's returning to the sideline this season after a year's sabbatical during which he worked as a studio football analyst for Fox Sports following a 15-year stint with the New Orleans Saints.
Payton's comments in an interview with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell rocked the NFL because he broke the coaches code in which they refrain from publicly lambasting one another and because he spent his first six months on the job admonishing his players not to look back at last year's dismal season and to ignore “outside noise.”
“I said this to the team in the meeting yesterday: we’ve had a great offseason relative to that, you know, and I’ve been preaching that message and here I am the veteran” doing just that, Payton said during a lengthy mea culpa in his first comments since he ignited the firestorm.
“It was a learning experience for me. It was a mistake. Obviously, I needed a little bit more filter ... I needed a little bit more restraint. And I regret that,” Payton continued.
Payton said he's usually pretty media savvy "and I just had one of those moments. Jarrett’s a good friend, real good at his job. And two lattes in the morning, first one I see and 40 minutes later, I’m regretting it.”
In the interview, Payton also took potshots at the Jets, who hired Hackett as their offensive coordinator this year, and criticized Broncos general manager George Paton and team President Damani Leech for allowing Hackett and his staff to give Wilson so much free rein, including having his personal quarterback coach with him at team headquarters.
That was one of many unconventional allowances — another was having his own office upstairs next to the coaches — that drew heavy scrutiny when Wilson looked nothing like the star he'd been in Seattle or like a QB who deserved the $245 million extension he signed last summer.
Payton's criticisms were part of a spirited defense of Wilson, whom he expects to have a big comeback this year and help the Broncos end a seven-year playoff drought.
“Listen, I’m not afraid of the expectation,” Payton said Friday. “I’ve talked with several people about, you know, being used to contending for the postseason. You don’t take it for granted. But that mindset needs to be present here. And so yeah, I see this as a team that has that ability.”
Payton didn’t specifically apologize for his critical comments but he did say he’ll reach out to Hackett and Jets head coach Robert Saleh “at the right time” to do so.
The Broncos host the Jets on Oct. 8, and the row he started “certainly will bring more interest to the game when we play them,” Payton said. "But that seems like years from now.”
Closer to home, Payton has some damage control to do with his GM and the team president who came on board late last summer.
"The front office and the ownership are the two reasons I came here,” Paton said. “So, George and I are close. He was one of the big attractions, he and ownership. My point was it was across the board organizationally, it wasn't just one person” responsible for Wilson's dismal season.