MIAMI — There are times when he is the embodiment of the word "maniacal," yet so many of his subjects call him a players' coach.
He lights into his players when he is the least bit dissatisfied, yet those same men claim they'd do just about anything for the guy.
Who, then, is the real Sean Payton? Really, he's all of the above.
"He's gotten on me. He's chewed me out," Saints safety Roman Harper said of his coach. "He chews everybody out. That's part of playing for the guy. But I have learned in the years that I've been here that that's just part of the package.
"At the same time, he's going to reward you a lot of the time. You're going to work hard. You're going to practice hard. But he knows how to get you back and keep you fresh and understands how to help you win a ballgame."
Here's all you need to know should you happen to meet Payton. He doesn't like small talk, and his sense of humor is comparable to a rock. He is a traditional coach through and through, having learned from the likes of other no-nonsense football men such as Bill Parcells while in Dallas.
And he's intense. Extremely so.
"I've heard him say some things, but I'm not about to repeat them," Harper said when asked for an example.
Yet the 46-year-old Payton finds a way to restrain that part of his persona enough to get his players to buy in, and that is as elusive an accomplishment as anything his NFC championship team has achieved this season.
"He does a real good job blending the personalities," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "He knows when to back off a little bit. He understands the makeup of his team. He knows when to push a little bit, too."
"Not everybody has that skill," cornerback Jabari Greer said. "I think that he's led us here because he does have that skill."
"Here" is the Saints' first Super Bowl. Win or lose, this is the end result of the transformation of a once dreadful organization. And Payton, in his fourth season, deserves much of the credit. His offensive expertise has meshed perfectly with his franchise quarterback, Drew Brees. But Payton was not too proud to recognize his one-dimensional offense needed some balance, so he beefed up the running game this season with great results.
He is a man who always knew his calling was coaching. He never purported to be a future Hall of Fame quarterback while at Eastern Illinois, even if he was a three-time I-AA All-American. He milked what he could of his playing career, toiling at various times with the Ottawa Rough Riders (CFL), Chicago Bruisers (Arena league) and Chicago Bears (as a strike replacement player).
The most unique and among the most memorable experiences was his short stint with the Leicester Panthers in England, a club owned by a brewery that offered a meager salary. The best benefit was, frankly, the free beer.
"Ultimately, you're only spending about 20 to 21 days per stop, then you're quickly thinking about what you're going to do next," Payton said. "I knew I wanted to coach, (although) I certainly was grateful for the experience of the tryouts and the workouts. It was clear that I was going to have to get into this profession in a different area."
He left England when he was offered a graduate assistant position at San Diego State. He flew home to Illinois and drove the rest of the way. Seems he made the right choice, even if there are moments when he appears down right miserable.
"On game day," Vilma said, "he's just crazy."
Still, there's that balance his players can't stop talking about. The edgy Payton doesn't grow warm and fuzzy when he learns his players actually like his approach. The last thing any self-respecting, hard-nosed football coach wants is to be accused of having moments of going soft.
"The whole players' coach thing, I cringe a little bit," Payton said. "I'm not going to describe myself. It would probably be better for a player to. I think it's important that you're demanding. I think it's important that you're fair. I think you don't want to settle for anything less than exactly what you're looking for. It's not our job to be the players' friend."
Perhaps another thing one should know upon meeting Payton is to not bestow on him something you perceive to be a compliment. Maybe someone should tell his players.
"He's just all in. He's so engulfed (with football)," Harper said. "That's what you get with a grown man with competition when everything is on the line. There's a lot of attitude in him. Me, I definitely enjoy playing for Coach Payton.
"He's a cool guy."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.