Sean Payton does very few things without a purpose. His first interview since his return from a season long suspension served many purposes for the New Orleans Saints head coach.
Striking exactly the right tone in his remarks regarding NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Payton used the word "appreciative" several times.
Payton was asked if his suspension for his alleged role in the Saints bounty program was fair? "You have to move on," he said. "Regardless of how you felt, you knew there is eight months here."
There were things Payton said he "would do differently." And he urged the people of New Orleans to embrace Goodell when he visits next week for the Super Bowl.
"It should be outstanding, gracious," said Payton.
Payton also hit a home run with the city when he said was asked of speculation that he might coach elsewhere in 2013. "There was no way I was going to another team," said Payton.
So adamant about his return to New Orleans, Payton referenced it later in the 45-minute conversation with the media. "This was clearly the team I was returning to," said Payton.
When discussing the 2012 season, Payton's tone quickly changed.
It was clear the alpha dog in the Saints organization was sending a message to his coaches and players that a seven-win season was unacceptable.
Payton was especially critical of his defense and running game. He noted that in 2006 (when the Saints reached the NFC Championship Game) and in 2009 (when they won the Super Bowl), the Saints were much better in those two critical areas.
"When you play the way we played defensively, it is going to be hard to win. When you struggle running the football the way we did the first half of the season, it is going to be hard to win."
"Specifically on defense, that is the one thing that keeps me up at night."
Payton was clearly unhappy when he referenced was one of his key coaching mantras. That is, asking players to perform only tasks they are capable of doing.
The notion that his return would rectify all of the Saints warts collected in the 2012 season was quickly dismissed by Payton as well.
Payton said he spoke often with his mentor, former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. What Parcells told Payton, said the Saints coach, struck a cord.
"You better make sure this mindset that you are back and going to win 11 games doesn't exist. Because, you could win five next year."
With a few simple phrases, Payton put his organization on notice.
"We will have to do a lot of things better," said Payton. "Or we will be at the Senior Bowl early next year."
UPDATE: Payton's displeasure with the defense led to swift action. The Saints fired Steve Spagnuolo on Thursday.
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