No, I believe Payton is with the team and will be throughout the season in many other manifestations. Payton's presence is obvious first through his coaching staff. Most of the staff members came to New Orleans with Payton and all believe in his philosophy of "do your job" and the various permutations of that challenge. Vitt is a Payton disciple, if not Father Confessor at times, and reflects the can-do attitude and work ethic of the head coach. Vitt has performed ably in the role of surrogate Payton, and has the respect of his fellow coaches and players. The worst part of this is that Vitt could be a head coaching candidate elsewhere next season.
Of course, the defense will be learning a new system under new coordinator Steve Spagnola, but I believe Spags is more a product of the Payton culture than former coordinator Gregg Williams ever was. The disgraced Williams was a maverick who did not bend to any authority but his own. Spagnola knows what it takes to fit into the culture of a Super Bowl champion, as he did as defensive coordinator of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants.
More importantly, Payton's presence is manifest through QB Drew Brees and coach Pete Carmichael Jr. If anybody knows how Payton attacks a defense, it is Brees who has several years experience at carrying out Payton's plans to perfection. Carmichael showed last year after Payton was injured during a sideline collision that he, too, is fully ingrained in the Payton attack philosophy. During his brief audition, the offense did not skip a beat.
All over the NFL, teams have new coaches who are installing new philosophies, new techniques and new schemes. Every one of those requires a learning curve of some period, whether it's months, games or an entire season. The Saints do not have to worry about that because Payton's culture is intact. His photo may be only a symbol of his presence, but he is there and will be throughout the season.
His new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores and at his website: www.JWMillerSports.com