Is Sean Payton a bully?

Following the news of Russell Wilson’s benching by Payton for the final two games of the season, some were upset. But when it was discovered how the situation was handled—with the Broncos asking the QB to alter his contract or be benched—many in the media called Payton a bully.

That narrative was no doubt helped by the way the head coach berated Wilson on the sideline a few weeks ago.

But is Payton a bully, or simply a tough, old-school head coach?

Many in the media call Sean Payton a bully

Ryan Clark not only said that Payton is a bully, but a thug, too. Clark referenced the coach telling Wilson, “Will you stop f—ing kissing babies?” as well as how the QB was treated in general.

Remember, though, that in 2022 Wilson had the keys to the castle. He was given his own office, brought in his own QB coach as well as his own massage therapist and strength and conditioning coach. Not only that, but remember the stories of Wilson doing high-knees up and down the aisle of the plane on the way to London?

And what was the result? Wilson played the worst football of his professional career.

Payton knew the treatment had to change, and being and old-school coach, he took away all of those new-school amenities Wilson surrounded himself with.

Nathaniel Hackett enabled his terrible play and gave him excuses. Payton came in with tough love and looked to take away all that privilege.

“And that other stuff, I’ve never heard of it,” Payton told Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY. “We’re not doing that.”

Clark continued on his perceived bullying of Wilson:

It wasn’t just national media members calling Payton a bully, but some local ones, too.

And some believe his bullying tactics began back when he called out Nathaniel Hackett’s coaching as, “It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.”

Sean Payton comments about relationship with Wilson

No doubt about it, the Broncos head coach is an old-school type.

He’s basically the polar opposite of Hackett, who was every player’s friend, but he wasn’t respected in the locker room. Payton not only berated Wilson on the sideline, he’s been somewhat gruff in media appearances, too.

But what he has that other recent Broncos coaches don’t is a Super Bowl win. He also has a lifetime 62.3 winning percentage as a head coach. Simply, Payton knows what it takes to win in the NFL and he’s not going to change his ways now.

“I think it’s part of the deal, and I understand it,” Payton said about the criticisms he’s facing, including being called a bully. “I get it. It’s the only thing that makes me once and a while want to do Hard Knocks. There’s a perception. That would be the only reason to get an inside look as to this whole ‘old school’ approach. Shoot, you don’t do this this long if you’re not adjusting, funny, creative — all those things. I think I am all those things.”

Here, he argues he is old school, but knows how to connect to today’s players, too.

Payton addressed the relationship he has with Wilson:

“Look, I think this idea that he and I, or we, don’t have a good relationship, or he’s not a fit, all of that stuff comes from people further away from our program,” Payton said. “You guys are close to it. I think the further away people are from the program, the more they just jump to a narrative. It is what it is, but he’s approached this week like we expected—like a pro. That’s it.”

Contract talks were mishandled, but coaches sometimes bench players

Ultimately, the way Broncos handled Wilson’s contract situation and the injury guarantees was embarrassing to both the coach, the general manager George Paton, and the entire organization.

It’s one thing to ask a player to change his contract, and another to threaten benching him if he doesn’t.

Those threats ended up being shallow, though. Payton didn’t bench Wilson in November; the two kept on winning together despite the QB’s limitations.

But when their playoff hopes were all but over, he benched his quarterback. This isn’t surprising, or new.

Winning teams ride the hot hand, and if they have a playoff spot locked up, they will rest key starters. Losing teams, however, must use the final few games of the year to evaluate talent for the future.

Payton benched Wilson to evaluate Jarrett Stidham, and at the same time, he’s protecting the franchise’s future. He can’t risk Wilson getting injured and then the Broncos being saddled by Wilson’s contract through 2025.

So, whether or not Payton is a bully, does it even matter if the Broncos win games and make it into the playoffs? One of the aforementioned media members said, in the end, winning is all that matters.