Addressing the media for the first time since being handed a one-year suspension without pay by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton hinted at a possible appeal of the suspension and stated that he will return to coach the Saints in 2013.
While Payton said he has not decided whether to appeal the suspension, he left the door wide open about doing so, saying that he will decide in the next two to three days about his course of action. He has until Monday to appeal.
The suspension is set to begin April 1, effective through Super Bowl XLVII on February 3, 2013. Payton added that he is 100 percent confident that he will coach the Saints in 2013.
"I'm appreciative of the opportunity to appeal," Payton said. "I don't know if there would be a benefit." Goodell has already stated that he will rule swiftly if an appeal is made but the advantage for Payton and the Saints is that it would buy the team more time to get its house in order moving forward.
Asked to describe his emotions when the harsh penalties were handed down by Goodell, Payton said this:
"You go back to a range of emotions that hit you," Payton said. "You're disappointed. You're disappointed in yourself that it got to this point. I think we're trained as coaches to begin preparation right away. I find myself reflecting on it. You go through a lot of emotions."
Payton said his first awareness of an NFL investigation into the so-called "Bounty" system came after the Super Bowl XLIV championship in early 2010 when the NFL informed the Saints of it.
Payton said he could not comment on several specifics in the NFL report accepted blame for what transpired.
"As the head coach, anything that happens in the framework of your team and your program you are responsible for," Payton said. "That's a lesson I've learned. It's easy to get carried away in regards to a certain side of the ball when we're involved offensively or defensively. That's something that I regret," a clear suggestion that he gave Gregg Williams total control of the defense and may not have been totally aware of what was going on with that aspect of the team while he focused his attention on the Saints' record-setting offense.
While Payton obviously did not expect to receive such a lengthy suspension, he resisted the temptation to criticize Goodell. Instead, he complimented him.
"I think the commissioner has done a great job of communicating with us throughout this process," Payton said. "I think being in a leadership role myself as a head coach, certainly I understand the position he was in. I think he has made it clear for good reason we have such a good product right now that the idea with something of this magnitude is an important issue he wanted to address."
While Goodell has cited the Saint being dishonest regarding what actually transpired in his public reports, Payton said he made an attempt to come clean.
"We take his office very seriously and the role that he has," said Payton. "In the two trips to New York, I did everything in my power to answer the questions honestly."
Noted for his attention to detail, Payton said he has made his list and you can bet he is checking it twice. He said that the Saints' offseason list is already done with everything basically planned up until the Saints play in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on
Payton said that he is not clear yet on the specifics of the suspension, about what he is allowed to do and what he cannot do. Can he have any contact with coaches or players? Can he participate in events where coaches and players are present away from coaching? Can he work in television as an NFL analyst, as one published report has suggested?
With regard to a temporary replacement, Payton admitted to consulting Bill Parcells, who is reported to be a possible candidate to take over on a one-year basis.
Payton worked for Parcells in Dallas and regards Parcells as his mentor. Payton and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis will meet with Parcells today before Payton returns to Metairie to continue planning for his absence from the team.
Payton says the Saints have many good options to take over.
"Fortunately, we feel like we have a number of good candidates," Payton said.
If Parcells is lured back into coaching, it would likely cause his wait to be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to be pushed back five years. In addition, were Parcells to consider accepting the position, the Saints would have to invoke "The Rooney Rule," and interview a minority candidate for the job.
While it does not seem likely that Parcells would accept the chance to coach the Saints, it cannot be ruled out, based on his fondness and close relationship with Payton.
"He's a great teacher," Payton said. "Certainly, I'm biased having worked with him. He's a Hall of Fame coach. I would also say that there are some things probably set up in the framework of our program that would be exactly how he would have set those things up had he been the head coach back in 2006. So I would say there would be some carryover there."
Parcells spoke with ESPN about the situation, admitting that Payton had sought his counsel following the suspension, speaking with him 8 or 9 times.
The attraction to going outside of the organization for an interim head coach is that it would allow the assistant coaches to focus on their responsibilities, rather than adding to them and having to shuffle many moving parts.
The disadvantage is what it may do to upset a very successful organization and solid coaching staff with many potential head coaching candidates on the staff.
While Joe Vitt, a potential replacement, is also facing a suspension, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, Pete Carmichael, Jr. and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo are all highly thought of in NFL circles.
Spagnuolo was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams from 2009-2011. Kromer was interviewed by the Rams after they let Spagnuolo go following the 2011 season. Carmichael received interest in head coaching positions with the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins recently and he called the plays after Payton injured his knee in a loss to Tampa Bay this past season.
Payton was adamant that the sanctions levied against the Saints by Goodell do not taint the accomplishments of the team over the past three seasons.
Payton said the biggest challenge moving forward is not being directly involved with football for the first time in 39 years. He made a smart move in getting in front of the story and addressing the situation before going into his banishment from the team.
Based on what happened as a result of inaction, ignoring threats or a lack awareness, you can rest assured that Payton has learned some valuable, costly lessons.
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