Eta Mu Chapter of Sigma Chi at Eastern Illinois - Sean Payton '87: EIU Quarterback to NFL Coach

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Sean Payton '87: EIU Quarterback to NFL CoachIn the hardscrabble world of the NFL, many coaches are here today, gone tomorrow. In fact, in the last two seasons, 13 teams – about 40 percent of the franchises in the league – have hired new head coaches.

All of which makes the tenure of Sean Payton ’87 in New Orleans all the more remarkable. The Sigma Chi brother and former Eastern Illinois quarterback is celebrating his 10th anniversary as head coach of the New Orleans Saints this season.

Payton was named the head coach in 2006, putting him in a tie with the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin for fourth on the list of the longest-tenured head coaches in the NFL. Payton also has the second-longest tenure of any head coach in the history of the Saints, trailing only Jim Mora Sr. – though Payton has six playoff victories while Mora has none.

With one Super Bowl title, three NFC South championships, five playoff appearances, and nearly 100 victories in New Orleans, the former NFL, CFL, and Arena League quarterback has become a beloved icon in The Big Easy.

“There’s something about this city, and you hear that initially, but there is something unique and different,” Payton said in January 2016. “I can’t put my finger on it.”

Although there was speculation following the 2015 season that other teams might pursue him, Payton was in no hurry to leave his adopted home.

“I just built a place here,” he said back in January. “I think I would struggle not living here and not always having a place here. And it bothers me when I eat at a restaurant in another city and five servers don’t arrive at your table at exactly the same time. I would have had a hard time not having a residence here and being here. There’s something uniquely different about this place, and it’s much more difficult to understand if you never lived here.”

Before going into coaching, Payton was a prolific quarterback at Eastern Illinois. Under the direction of head coach Al Molde, the Panthers utilized a pass-happy offense that often led to eye-popping numbers in the boxscore. As a result, EIU’s offense was dubbed “Eastern Airlines.” During Payton’s senior season in 1986, the Panthers advanced to the NCAA Div. I-AA quarterfinals and finished with an 11-2 record.

A California native who went to high school in Naperville, Ill., Payton briefly played professionally before heading into the coaching ranks. He got his big break in 2000 when he was named the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants. He became the assistant head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in 2003 before the Saints tabbed him as their new coach in 2006.

Before he coached a single game for the Saints, Payton got a big commitment when he convinced future hall-of-fame quarterback Drew Brees to sign with the team in March 2006. Brees has been the quarterback ever since, winning the Super Bowl 44 MVP award.

Legend has it that Payton convinced Brees to sign after giving him the Sigma Chi handshake – Brees is a brother from the Purdue chapter.

The two Sigma Chi brothers haven’t looked back since.

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