Newly-reinstated New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton met with the media at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama for the first time since being allowed to return to his job Wednesday morning. He was patient and cooperative with many questions.
Payton refused to answer whether, in fact, there was an actual bounty system in place with the Saints, saying that Commissioner Goodell and he agreed not to speak about it publicly, that it was time to move forward.
Payton also stated that with regard to his contract status that there was no way that he was going to another team.
"The issue was a minor technicality, a minor clause that wasn't approved that became more challenging since he was out of the building and a matter of working out specifics to get the deal done," Payton said.
"I've always had that two or three week period where Mickey and I would visit. At that point, it would be easy. This time, that did not exist, making it more complicated. Every year, a third of this league is turning over (coaching). That's the business. The reason I feel that way and the reason I feel I've got the best job is the relationship I have with our General manager and the relationship I have with our owner, Tom Benson, is fantasticd. That's what makes the job special. That, in our industry, does not exist with all of the other teams we are talking about. There's a clear vision of what we are looking to do. That frienship element between Mickey and I is not taken for granted at all. There was never even any attempt in regards to leverage. I could not be involved with specifics. It had to go to an agent and back to me. Mickey and I could have gotten it done over two dinners.
Payton said that he observed key items that prevented the Saints from winning in 2012.
"When you play the way we played defensively and when you run the way we ran the ball early in the season, it is going to be hard to win," Payton said. "When you allow the kick returns like we did against the Giants, it is going to be hard to win.
Payton said he talked to Ray Anderson of the NFL office about twice a week during his suspension. He said that he and Goodell met for 4.5 hours & covered a lot of topics.
With regard to returning to his job, Payton said, "We need to do a lot of things. I'm grateful for that opportunity, I'm excited to be back.
Despite popular opinion otherwise, Payton said he is not surprised to be back earlier than the original scheduled return following the Super Bowl on February 3.
Payton said Commisioner Goodell spoke with him on Friday about speaking and they met on Monday.
Payton said that NFL officials felt he was behaving in proper fashion, that he was "dotting the i's and crossing the t's." Payton stated the obvious. "I wanted to make sure there was nothing that was ever going to jeopardize reinstatement."
On the topic of being away from the game and how tough it was for him, Payton was philosophical and honest.
"It's difficult," Payton said. "You try to draw an analogy to it. I found myself in a routine on game day. Ii would get the coach's copy middle of the week. Like anything else, you're watching from afar. There are certain things you would see and naturally at times it becomes frustrating. With the situation as unique and unprecedented as it was, I'm thankful to this staff. I'm thankful to Aaron Kromer, thankful to Joe Vitt. He's been a tremendous ally and supporter and close friend and close coaching assistant for me. The players and coaches all went through something that was different. There's this mixed emotion. You understand as you watch from afar the early struggles. You feel frustrated. The amount of time you spend together with the players and your fellow coaches is extraordinary. They're like your family in a lot of ways. you want to see them do well. You want to see them have success.
While being away from the Saints was difficult, it was missing his friends and the personal relationships that affected Payton the most.
"The hardest part was not football," Payton said. "The hardest part was so many of these people that you are talking about is not having the personal interraction with those in the organization you are closest to. That's what I found to be more difficult than football. Clearly, we're in the business of teaching. We ask our players all the time to learn from our mistakes. There's certain things as I look back on it that I would want to do differently. The challenges of managing a staff is important. I missed the game quite a bit. You miss that competition, that element of what it feels like when you're winning, when you have success, the butterflies on Sunday morning."
Payton admitted that being banned from the game he loves was a huge challenge initially.
"The suspension was more or less something you can't control," Payton said. "The first week or so, it was difficult. You felt a lot of different emotions. At that point, you have to move on from it, regardless of how you felt, knowing their's eight more months here. I think turning the page is important. It's very important. It's no different than what we teaching our players after a bad call."
Payton said his meeting with Goodell covered much more than the Saints and bounties.
"The commissioner and I talked about a lot of things for four-and-a-half hours,
Payton said. "A lot of it was about players safety, youth football, quarterback play in our league right now. I was real appreciative of the meeting and the time."
Payton said he has not sat down with Loomis yet about the specifics regarding the make-up of his staff and about player retention moving forward.
Payton acknowledged how grateful and humbled he is by the outpouring of support from New Orleans and the region during his hiatus.
Payton also responded to a question regarding whether the Drew Brees contract holdout had an effect on the quarterback's play by explaining how the former Super Bowl MVP's record-setting 2011 season came after a lockout which had no effect on Brees' performance despite time away from the game in the offseason, saying that he did not feel that the impasse in contract talks and his absence from coaching impacted Brees. performance in 2012.
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