Saturday, December 13, 2014

Which departure should we be watching for?

You know I think SI's Peter King is as annoying as the next guy does. But, despite Sean Payton's protestations I don't know that this speculation is really all that "silly."
Sports Illustrated's Peter King ignited the blogosphere earlier this week, when he offered a video on his The Monday Morning Quarterback website, saying he could envision Payton making an early exit from New Orleans after this, his ninth season.

King's reasoning centered on Payton's mentor Bill Parcells' preference for leaving teams early before overstaying his welcome. King said coaches often develop a "wanderlust" after significant time with one organization, and Payton might be reinvigorated by going elsewhere.

"Absolutely no way," Payton shot back, unequivocally dismissing King's theory.

He wasn't quiet done expressing his distaste for the notion that he'd leave before his contract is up in three years.

"So it wasn't a report? Peter King offered his 10 things he thinks. It's silly. Won't happen," Payton said.
The basis for King's speculation is wrong.  We joke about "Grandpa Sean" a lot but he's not going to leave just for a change of scenery or for the sake of being "reinvigorated."  That really is a silly line of thinking.  Of course, coaches (typically) don't stay in one place forever but, when they leave, there's usually a reason beyond just "Welp, it's time to be gettin' on"

The conventional wisdom among Saints fans has long held that Payton will stick around in New Orleans at least as long as Drew Brees does.  According to Brees, that could be another ten years but he is clearly a crazy person.  A reasonable but generous assessment would give him another 4 or 5 years at most.  On the other hand, it may not be Brees's longevity the fans should be worried about.  

Tom Benson is 87 years old.  Recently, he's been actively spending more of his time and money building monuments to himself.   In the past few years, he has created the following.

The Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at the Ochsner Cancer Institute
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson today will announce a $5 million gift to expand cancer care in south Louisiana.  The donation will be used for the expansion of the Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at the Ochsner Cancer Institute and kicks off a fundraising effort to provide more patients with cutting-edge cancer care and research options.

The Tom and Gayle Benson student mall at Brother Martin High School.
New Orleans, La. - Tom and Gayle Benson have donated $10 million to Brother Martin High School, the largest donation in the school's history. In honor of his gift,  Brother Martin will name the student Mall, the center of student activity on campus, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Benson. Tom Benson is a 1944 graduate of St. Aloysius and says he remembers well the generosity of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. 

Below is a photo of "Benson Field at Yulman Stadium"

Tulane sideline

But it's not the only football field that will bear Benson's name. There's also one in Ohio.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Pro Football Hall of Fame received a record $11 million donation from Saints owner Tom Benson to renovate its football stadium and build a residence that includes room for retired players.

The Hall of Fame made the announcement Monday. The pledge is the largest by an individual in the 51-year history of the Canton football shrine. Fawcett Stadium will be renamed Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium after the 87-year-old owner.
And, of course, there's this.

Bronze Tom

I know it was back in September and Saints fans were all too busy buying Superbowl tickets at the time to notice. But there were a couple of things about that statue unveiling that are worth another look.  
After seeing the statue for the first time, Benson was choked up and emotional as he was given the microphone.

"Oh, that's real nice," Benson said. "I never did think this would happen. So please, thank y'all very much."

It was a side of Benson that Loomis hadn't seen before.

"It did make me emotional to hear him get emotional," Loomis said. "I was saying this to some of the executives that I've been with for a long time, I've never seen him do that before. I've seen him get emotionally angry, but never emotional like this about any kind of issue. I know this meant a lot to him, so that's gratifying for all of us."
The way that's worded might lead the reader to believe the statue was a surprise to Benson.   It wasn't.  Benson was (maybe) "seeing the statue for the first time" at the unveiling. But it was obviously something he had long been involved in planning; the same way he'd been involved in planning everything else on this list.  Interesting, though, that this one, the statue of himself, is the one at which he tears up.

Anyway, the ceremony proceeded with Bobby Jindal lying about "Benson and his wife Gayle's commitment to the state after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," (Benson actually tried to rip the Saints out of New Orleans after Katrina. The NFL forced him to come back.) Mitch Landrieu said something about "vitality."  And then Sean Patyon spoke. 
"As a head coach, I couldn't have had the opportunity to work for a better owner in our league."
Yeah, well, slim pickings with that lot, we know.  But, whatever we might think of Benson, it's true that he and Payton get along well.  We can't say the same, though, for Benson's probable successor.
Lost in the fact that the contract extension signed by Saints coach Sean Payton was rejected by the league office due to a term that would have invalidated the deal upon the departure of G.M. Mickey Loomis is the question of why that language was in the contract in the first place.

A league source tells PFT that Payton wanted to be sure that Loomis would be present to serve as a buffer between the coach and Rita Benson LeBlanc.
Here's one more recent Benson donation we left out because it doesn't appear to involve plastering his name or image on something. 
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle Benson, have committed a $5 million gift to the Team Gleason House for Innovative Living at St. Margaret's in New Orleans, Team Gleason Foundation officials announced Monday.

The funds will support the ongoing efforts of Team Gleason to provide people with ALS and other debilitating conditions an environment where they can live vital and productive lives with meaningful freedom and independence.

"Gayle and I couldn't be more proud of the work that Steve and Team Gleason are doing for people living with ALS. Steve inspires us all with his message of facing and overcoming adversity, Tom Benson, said in a release. "And, we wanted to be part of growing this community of productive individuals committed to living as independently as possible."
For the most part this end-of-life giving spree is Tom Benson's desperate attempt to immortalize himself in this world. But, devout Catholic that he is, we also have to suspect he's trying to pass his proverbial camel through the old needle's eye.   If Benson happens to set off on that journey before Drew Brees decides to retire, Sean Payton may be headed out of New Orleans before then too.

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