New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said in the lobby of the Breakers Hotel on Tuesday morning that he doesn’t feel he lied to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in his two visits to the league office in New York and that everyone is “getting ahead of ourselves” that Bill Parcells will replace him this season.
Payton will serve a one-year suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal. Parcells, his former boss, is a friend and mentor.
But later in the day, Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis are expected to visit with Parcells, who has a retirement home nearby in Jupiter. Payton was an assistant of Parcells’ during his last coaching stint with the Dallas Cowboys.
Payton said that he hasn’t ruled out an appeal of his one-year suspension that will cost him $7 million in salary. He said that if he did appeal, it would slow down the replacement process for the Saints this season. The biggest enticement of potentially hiring Parcells is that it would allow coordinators like Pete Carmichael and Steve Spagnuolo to continue to do their specific jobs rather than also assuming total control of the team.
Several sources said that it would be better for the Saints to have Carmichael design the offense with the assistance of Drew Brees since it was only late last season, during Payton’s knee injury, that Carmichael assumed the play-calling from Payton.
Payton said he’s biased, but he views Parcells as a “Hall of Fame” head coach. “A lot of what I did in setting up the Saints, I learned from him," Payton added.
Parcells was a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year but failed to make the final cut.
Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who was interviewed by the Rams for their head-coaching vacancy, would also be a candidate to replace Payton.
“Bringing in Parcells would be the best thing for Sean and for the chemistry of his coaching staff,” a NFL head coach told me here. “I know Sean, and this would alleviate any tensions among the coaches who don’t get the job as interim head coach. It would be a great move.”
However, another GM told me that if the Saints hire Parcells for one year: “What kind of punishment is that? Losing Payton changes the whole atmosphere with that team, but Parcells is a proven, great coach. He’s won Super Bowls, and you got to believe those two would talk regularly.”
Payton said he was 100 percent certain that he would return to the Saints for the 2013 season.
Payton was asked about his comment when he hired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that he wanted his defense “to get nasty.” Was the bounty system part of that?
"Obviously not," Payton said.
He has said that he hadn’t spoken in the past few weeks with Williams, who has been indefinitely suspended by Goodell as the Rams’ defensive coordinator.
Payton doesn’t believe that any NFL players were severely injured by the Saints’ bounty system and reiterated that he was disappointed that his personal situation “got to this point."
"I’ve been going through a lot of emotions about what has happened and what has happened to our team," he added.
Payton pointed out this could end up being the first time in 39 years of his life that he won’t be involved with football.
“I’m talking about when I started playing Pop Warner football and then high school football,” Payton said.
If Payton does decide to appeal his suspension, Goodell has said that the coach will get an expedited appeal process.
Payton said that the first time that he was specifically aware of Williams’ bounty system was after the team’s 2009 Super Bowl season. Goodell said that after the Saints were warned about putting an end to the bounties, that they continued during the past two seasons.
Payton again said that he regretted that and that he assumed responsibility for his coaching staff’s actions.
Dennis Allen, the new Raiders head coach, was a secondary coach for the Saints during the Bountygate era and said he understood where Goodell was coming from in protecting players and the “integrity of the game."
"I am all for player safety," Allen said, "and I understand protecting the NFL shield.”
But Allen did say that he also respects Payton.
Payton said that the past five days have been challenging, trying to deal with the suspension and doing as much work as possible in preparing the team for the draft and getting as much done before he’s supposed to quit working on April 1.
“I know a lot of people have said that other teams had bounty systems, but I’m not interested in venting like that,” Payton said. “I’d rather look forward to how I can improve as a head coach."
Finally, Payton said that he has found out who his true friends and he has been impressed by the fans support.
“Our fans back in New Orleans have been amazing,” Payton said. “My peers, guys that I’m close with in this league, the players on our team, it’s like a family. That’s what gets you through something like this.”