‘He had my back the entire way’: Sean Payton remembers mentor, boss Tom Benson

NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 04: Head Coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints gets a hug from Team Owner Tom Benson after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 4, 2007 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Jaguars 41-24. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS — “When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Coach.”

It’s a handwritten note from Tom Benson that Saints head coach Sean Payton will never forget.

Payton opened up about the death of Tom Benson in a lengthy post on the Sports Illustrated website. Payton said he was in Los Angeles when he heard the news Thursday that Benson, 90, had passed away:

I just wish every Saints fan had the privilege I had. I got to be mentored by Mr. Benson for over a decade. Almost every day since I got the job coaching the Saints, Mr. Benson, a very behind-the-scenes owner, would give me some football—and life—advice.

I’d walk into his office in the morning. He’d always have a bowl filled with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses. I’d grab a couple of pieces of the candy and sit there for a few minutes, maybe longer, and listen. This is when we’d talk on a variety of topics. In every meeting, some piece of wisdom from his life in New Orleans, his business life, his military life, his sporting life, would pass from him to me.

Payton also recalled his yearlong suspension in 2012, a time when he said NFL officials were pressuring Benson to fire Payton.

“I had six days to get my office packed and to leave. I met with Mr. Benson every day. He was extremely hurt. Blindsided. But he was behind me, and he had my back the entire way, and for the entire year. I will never forget it,” Payton said.

Tributes are continuing to pour in for Benson, who was known as much for his wealth and business savvy as he was for his charitable giving.

Funeral arrangements for Benson were announced on Friday.

Watch WGNO Sports Director Ed Daniels’ tribute to Tom Benson below: