Retiring offensive tackle Zach Strief personifies class, success of the Saints under Payton
METAIRIE – It simply doesn’t get any better than this.
Zach Strief had as good of a retirement announcement as anyone will ever have. If anyone wants to model such an occurrence for himself or herself in the future, just reference Strief’s performance Monday afternoon. It was flawless.
From self-effacing, self-deprecating humor and raw emotion, Strief was about everything but himself. He was all about his college coach, his family, his Saints teammates and former teammates, his coaches, his general manager, the fans and the city itself. Strief checked all of the boxes.
That comes as no surprise to anyone who has spent time around the mountain of a man during the course of his career.
A virtual afterthought as a seventh-round draft choice (210th overall) in 2006, Strief admitted to nearly quitting in the middle of his first training camp in 2006 at steamy Millsaps College in Jackson, MS.
Strief is a pragmatic, practical, professional man. He has a solid grip on reality. The reality of the situation is that seventh-round draft picks seldom make in the NFL. Strief thought me may be seeing the handwriting on the wall. His father told him to stick it out, along with encouragement from tight ends coach Terry Malone. Strief said he had a constant urge to prove himself. He set out on that journey in New Orleans. It covered 12 years. It was special.
Instead, injuries to other offensive linemen allowed him to get an enormous number of reps at practice and helped him in his quest to make the team and stick around. He took advantage of the opportunity.
Ultimately, he became the “reports as an eligible receiver” additional blocker in goal-line situations.
From 2006-2010, Strief played in 71 games but started just seven. He broke through in 2011 after his mentor, Jon Stinchcomb retired, and became a starter for the next six seasons, playing solidly at right tackle. He opened the 2017 season as a starter before going down with a knee injury.
That injury provided an opportunity to Ryan Ramczyk, who seized the day and became an instant star.
Ironically, while injuries paved the way for Strief to make the roster in 2006, an injury expedited the development and starting status of Ramczyk.
Of course, there is a vast difference, considering Ramczyk was a first-round investment.
Strief overcame odds every step of the way.
While he will be missed as a player, his leadership ability in the locker room will be sorely missed. Sean Payton acknowledged as much. Strief served as a team captain five times.
Then, there is the relationship with the fans, city and media.
Fortunately, Strief has invested in a business in the New Orleans area with The Port of Orleans Brewing Company on Tchopitoulas Street and he married a New Orleans lady. His ties to the city will remain and that is a good thing.
Strief was as good with the media as anyone on the Saints squad. He may have been the very best to deal with. Strief was accessible and honest.
Then, there was his presence in the community.
If there was an event going on that Strief could lend himself to, he was there. I can vouch for that on a personal level with his loyal attendance to Saints Hall of Fame events. Strief has consistently raised money for pediatric cancer research and has provided his services to many other leadership efforts throughout the region.
To win in the NFL, you need solid scouting, good organizational leadership, outstanding coaching and excellent players. If you have players with character, the ability to win becomes incrementally easier and better.
When you look back at 2006 and the signings of Drew Brees, Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita, in particular, and you look at the draft, which produced six players who played at least 10 years in the league, the scouting and organizational leadership was in place and obvious in its excellence.
The hiring of Sean Payton gave the Saints a dynamic, aggressive, hungry, motivated young coach with tunnel vision. The players took care of the rest.
An NFC championship game appearance followed in the first season of the new regime as a fragile metropolitan area nursed itself back to health following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As Strief said Monday, seeing the city on its knees, barren and scarred, bruised and beaten in 2006 and to see it today has been an amazing growth process, one to marvel at and appreciate.
Thanks to Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton and players like Zach Strief, the recovery was made easier by a football team that exceeded expectations and gave everyone something to latch on to, enjoy and to be proud of.
By 2009, the Saints were a championship team. Strief was part of it.
The nostalgia of today was not lost on everyone present at the press conference.
With Strief retiring, only Brees remains from the original group of players Payton began his journey with in 2006. For that matter, only Brees and Thomas Morstead remain from the Super Bowl XLIV victory in 2010.
As for Brees, he and his wife Brittney were on hand for the retirement announcement, along with many other teammates of Strief. So, too, was Gayle Benson, who made the appearance despite her husband remaining hospitalized. That is how well respected Strief was by those who encountered him.
Nothing lasts forever. Change is inevitable. Time marches on. The players and coaches will change. Someone else will soon wear No. 64 in black and gold.
While Brees has, should and will always command the lion’s share of the attention for the success of the Saints under Sean Payton, the contributions of people like Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, Devery Henderson, Stinchcomb, Jonathan Goodwin, Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Jonathan Vilma, Morstead, Shanle, Fujita and so many others must always be remembered and appreciated.
The man who was a forgotten man in 2006 has become a man who will never be forgotten and will always be appreciated by Saints personnel and fans. Zach Strief has moved to the top of his class as one of the classiest men to ever don the black and gold. He will be sorely missed.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…