Payton's ties to those in Lions' GM search raises speculation

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Saints coach Sean Payton has deep ties to the two men at the center of the Lions' general manager search.

Saints head coach Sean Payton knows a fair share of Lions players and coaches.

Lions interim general manager Sheldon White's first job after his NFL career was as an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) where he and Payton worked together in 1994-95.

Payton later became an assistant with the New York Giants from 1999-2002 when Ernie Accorsi was general manager. Accorsi is advising the Lions in their search for a new GM.

With the Saints (5-8) likely heading toward back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since Payton took over in 2006, people have started speculating about his future in New Orleans. If for some reason he loses his job and the Lions fire Jim Caldwell, Payton's connection to Accorsi would surely stir speculation in Detroit.

That's certainly premature now, but Payton had good things to say about both White and Accorsi in his teleconference Thursday. And when asked about the possibility of working with White again, Payton didn't take the bait.

"Here's the trick question, right?" he said. "You guys are something else. Listen, the hard thing in our league, and it's the same kind of to some degree even with players, you really get so focused in the moment right now and how to predict if your paths would ever cross again.

"I think (White is) a fantastic worker, and sure, you would never rule out possibilities as to where you might, down the road, meet."

Payton said he and White started at Miami, White's alma mater, within a week of each other in 1994. White coached wide receivers, Payton coached quarterbacks and the two shared an office.

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Payton told a story of White — an NFL defensive back through 1993 — out-running a Red Hawks player along the sideline during a long play in a game.

"They were like parallel and then all of a sudden Sheldon was ahead of him, and I just know he could fly," Payton said.

The two have remained close enough over the years to exchange Christmas cards and chat when they bump into each other at league events. Payton and White also bonded over having experiences with coach Bill Parcells, Payton as an assistant in Dallas and White as a player.

"He's a tireless worker and someone that I got along real well with the two years we worked together," Payton said of White.

Although Payton said he considers Accorsi a "close friend" and someone who helped him early in his career, they didn't reconnect last offseason when Accorsi led the GM search for the Bears despite Chicago hiring Ryan Pace, a longtime personnel man for the Saints.

"I was the one trying to hide Ryan's phone number and sabotage in any way shape or form him having a chance to leave,' Payton said. "But it's deserved on his part."