Payton's place

New Orleans coach Sean Payton - in his first season as a NFL head coach - has the NFC South-leading Saints on an amazing turnaround after they finished last season 3-13. Here, Payton talks Saints and 49ers and gives his takes on several subjects regarding the two teams and Sunday's game at the Louisiana Superdome.

On if he's surprised to have a 7-4 record at this point in his first season with the Saints: "At the start of the season, it was hard for me, as a first year head coach, to have indicators on how our team was going to perform. I guess each step of the way, since I was hired in January you begin to hopefully make strides in your roster. We were able to sign Drew Brees. His shoulder rehabilitation and Deuce McAlister's rehabilitation were certainly things that were going to be needed to start the season off in the right way. I think you begin to set short term goals in regards to the first game, and the first quarter of the season, and you go from there. I don't think we're at a time where we a re reflecting on being 7-4. I think there is a lot of work ahead of us and a lot of games to be played that are going to be important each week. One of the things that we have been able to do is stay focused on the game and the team that we are playing that week. I don't know that at the start of the season, as a new coach, I could say that we are going to b at this number as far as wins and losses. I think you go in, a little apprehensive as a rookie head coach, about how your team is going to play and how you are going to coach. There is a little bit of a learning curve to it, and fortunately, we've been on the better side of some of these games and we've got to continue to do that."

On when he knew the Saints job was the right one for him: "I felt very comfortable with Mickey Loomis, our General Manager. I spent a lot of time with him during the interview process, and I also had a chance to visit with Mr. Benson. I got a strong feeling of the direction they wanted to head and their commitment in regards to getting the right kind of players and the support, starting from the ownership down. At the time there was a lot going on. The team hadn't officially come back to their facility, and the city is still recovering from Katrina. The uncertainty of where you are going to live, hiring a staff, and how your off-season program is going to be with housing. All those questions were one's that I knew going in were going to be challenges. We tried to focus on the main thing and that was getting the right type of character players here who were committed and dedicated to an off-season, working hard, and then building upon that. I think that's by and larger the biggest reason I felt it was the right fit. I don't think there's any perfect utopia, unless the job wouldn't have been open."

On being up for the Raiders head coaching job in 2004: "Our season in Dallas had just ended in 2003, and it had been my first season there. I had a chance to interview with Mr. Davis twice that first weekend after the season, and then my follow up interview the very next weekend. It was my first time interviewing for a head coaching position, and I had interviewed one other time with Oakland for an assistants job with Jon Gruden and Mr. Davis. It was a great experience for me, and I have a ton of respect for their tradition and what they have accomplished over the years. Mr. Davis is someone who, in League circles, is very well respected in regards to his knowledge of football, personnel and all the things he's brought to the game. In the end when I came back to Dallas, I had just been there one year with Bill Parcells and I thought the fit there was best for me. Oakland was able to go in a different direction while I stay put, and continue to grow in the Cowboy organization. It was a great experience. I was born in San Mateo, so being somewhat familiar with both teams and at least the 49ers at a young age before we moved. There is certainly a lot of respect for both the 49ers and Raiders organizations."

On if he was officially offered the Raiders job: "Honestly, I think it got reported a day or two early. It wasn't anything official, and I hadn't accepted the job. I think it got reported on ESPN on Tuesday, and the cards just got ahead of the horse a little bit. In fairness to Mr. Davis and the Raiders, it had gotten to a point where I had interviewed the second time and for me, I was said hey, I'm not going to get into any specifics as to what was offered, when it was offered, or if it was even offered at all other than it was a great opportunity. I will say this to be honest with you, that I had just called up and said that I am going to stay here in Dallas. The actual offer or the contract was in the early stages where they were putting feelers out about the numbers I might be comfortable with. It hadn't gotten anything clear, all the way to the end. I think the initial reports were premature, and we'll leave it at that."

On the 49ers' secondary: "I see a team that's playing with a lot more confidence and has done a lot in complimenting each other. There has to be a plan both offensively and defensively in the scheme in regards to how best win a football game. When you are able to run the ball effectively and then have a good defense there are a lot of things that come from that. With the 49ers having won three of their last four games, is a direct by product from the way they have been able to run the ball and have good defense. It allows the play action pass game to open up more. I think the secondary is one in which at times you are going to get some different looks zone coverage wise. They'll be in man coverage with some of their pressures. Each week there is a challenge for us. We are at that stretch of the season, and San Francisco is no different, where you have some younger guys filling in. I think they are physical, the safeties play physical and provide some challenges for us."

On if he thinks the Saints passing game can not be stopped: "I don't think so. There are some misleading numbers there. We are losing to Baltimore one week, and we are just throwing the ball up there to give ourselves the best opportunity to get back into the game, and then the numbers end up being a little lopsided. I think our players understand that we have to play well to win, and we have to play well and execute in order to accomplish the ultimate goal in winning games. We've lost, prior to last week's game, a couple of games in a row, which is the first time for us. Margin for error on this team and in the League is small and if you don't show up, execute, or do the necessary things it will cost you. Be it the passing game, good defense or the running game, it just so happens that those numbers ended up being larger. I will say that in two of those games we were behind in the fourth quarter and we just had to throw."

On if there was any interest in CB Walt Harris by the Saints when he was available: "To be honest I wouldn't be able to comment if there was a direct interest. We keep a pretty good tab on players when they become available. I don't think that at the time of his release, there was any inkling of bringing him in. We had begun our plans and moved forward, but I am somewhat familiar with him from when he was in Chicago. But again not too familiar. He's someone you start to study now on tape and look back for things you might see, and it's no different than the way their defense studies our receivers."

On what he attributes Harris's play to? "Generally with the cornerback position, the biggest assets they have are good instincts and good feet. Guys that can anticipate key in and recognize certain things within a receiver's game. I think the first thing a good cornerback has is a good head on his shoulders and he understands all the little things that go into being a good player. That allows him to play a little bit faster."

On the 49ers covering Reggie Bush out of the backfield: "Sometimes, depending on the coverage you get, backs get more involved, or sometimes they can get taken out of the passing game. Each week we try to put Reggie in different positions, whether he's outside, or in the backfield, in the running game or the passing game. Sometimes his numbers end up being more than we expected. He had eight catches in a game earlier in the season and that's more than you go into a game plan thinking he's going to have. He has even had more than that in one game. I think some of that is dictated on down and distance and the coverage's you see. Often times when you get zone coverage the backs end up getting check down throws and when you get man-to-man coverage the ball goes outside. That's not to say always, but we'll try each week to look at the defense, and more importantly look at our own players and get them into a position to be successful."

On if Bush's ability helps to open things up down field: "He's certainly a part of our offense and a big part of what we're trying to do. He's got good speed, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's someone that as the week begins, a lot of that is put together with our playmakers in mind and he's certainly one f those."

On his favorite restaurant in New Orleans: "I've been in the city a handful of times to eat. Everyone's been to Emerald's. Clancy's is a place I like to go, it's a little hole in the wall. I live over on the North Shore about 50 minutes away on the other side of the lake. There are a couple of places over there. There is an Italian place called DeAngelo's that is kid friendly. When they have crayons and color books it's a good spot of us right now in my life."

On dealing with 49ers guard Larry Allen: "I think certainly there's a ton of respect when you go up against someone as talented as Larry is. One thing I found during the three years when I was in Dallas with him was how smart he is and how quick he is able to recognize things. He has a wealth of experience, but he's a quick thinker who is very explosive. You just try to work your leverage and work your technique, and do all those things to give yourself a chance. You have to understand his strength and you understand that if he gets on you, you can be in trouble and in for a long day. One of the reasons he's going to be a Pro Bowl player is because of his brain. He's very intelligent and a very good thinker on the football field on game day. He is able to communicate not only to the center position but on out to the tackle position. George Warhop has done a great job with that group, we were all out there in Dallas together and I've got a ton of respect for what they were about."

On if he thinks Allen has lost a step recently: "It doesn't look like it. I think anytime you get into your teens as a player, your body doesn't feel the same way it did during your first or second year. Yet, when you see him on game day you see the pop and explosion, and the upper body strength and all the things he provided for a number of years in Dallas. I think you'd have to ask the player how it feels on Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm sure as you get older coming off the games your body takes a little longer to recover. To Larry's credit he has been a great worker in the off-season, a great lifter and I'm sure he's doing those same great things in San Francisco."

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