Payton: Should’ve been ‘better tuned in’

While a return to the sidelines remains a possibility, Bill Parcells is not close to being named the New Orleans Saints’ interim head coach while Sean Payton serves a likely one-year NFL suspension.

In Payton’s first one-on-one interview since the NFL announced severe punishments against the franchise for running an illegal bounty program, he told exclusively that a job offer to Parcells would be something that New Orleans and Parcells would consider “down the road.” Payton and Parcells spent Tuesday afternoon golfing together with Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and another team employee during a break from the NFL owners meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.

“There’s really nothing new to date,” Payton said after the outing. “More than anything, we just played golf. It was a great chance to visit with him and see how he’s doing.”

Parcells, who lives in the area, was approached last week about the possibly of replacing Payton if the latter is forced to miss the entire season. It’s believed, though, that the Saints would likely promote a coaching staff member to substitute for Payton if his suspension was reduced and he could return at some point during the 2012 campaign.

For that to happen, Payton would have to successfully appeal his punishment to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — the man who levied the suspension last week and other punishment against club officials and the team itself. Payton remains undecided about whether he will appeal.

Asked what it would take to entice the 70-year-old Parcells to return to the sideline, Payton said, “No. 1, this is something involving Mickey and our owner [Tom Benson]. Certainly for a guy like Bill, if this is a possibility down the road, he would want to know all the specifics. But we haven’t gotten to that stage at all.

“He is someone that I would look up and visit and go play golf with regardless if I were here at the meetings. Talking with him is very normal. He’s someone that I talk to frequently about football matters.”

Earlier in the day, Payton addressed the media for the first time since the NFL announced the punishment for the bounty program that was run between 2009 and 2011 targeting opposing offensive players. Saints players and others within the franchise, including former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams contributed to a bounty pool that reached as much as $50,000.

Players were rewarded $1,500 for what were described as “knockout” hits and $1,000 for “cart-offs” (i.e. an injured opponent being taken off the field on a medical cart). The payoff amounts were doubled or tripled during the postseason.

Williams, who was the ringleader of the bounty system, was suspended indefinitely by Goodell. Loomis was suspended for the first eight games and linebackers/assistant head coach Joe Vitt for the first six.

In addition, the Saints were fined $500,000 and stripped of 2012 and 2013 second-round draft choices.

Payton’s suspension is set to begin Sunday. He is expected to decide by Friday whether to appeal. If he does, Payton would be allowed to continue in his head coaching duties until the appeal was heard. Goodell said Monday that he would conduct an expedited hearing and decision under that circumstance.

Even if they wanted to hire Parcells and there was mutual interest, the Saints would have to comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule that requires interviewing at least one minority candidate. Asked whether any other available head coaching candidates who weren’t on staff could enter the mix for the job if Parcells didn’t have interest, Payton said, “I don’t even know if we would consider outside options. We’d probably start with the idea of handling this internally, but as a group, I’m sure we’d try to look at all options.”

Payton said Vitt would likely serve as his New Orleans’ interim head coach for at least the short term if he declined to appeal the suspension. Vitt served as interim head coach of the St. Louis Rams for 11 games during the 2005 season following the departure of Mike Martz for medical reasons.

The suspensions of Vitt and Loomis don’t go into effect until just before the start of the 2012 regular season.

The NFL claims Payton and Loomis had knowledge of the bounty system run by Williams but failed to take steps to stop them. Asked what he would do differently in retrospect, Payton alluded to his negligence monitoring Williams and making sure there wasn’t a bounty program after the NFL had conducted its initial investigation of the team early in the 2010 season.

“I think within the framework of the club, I would say being better tuned into all phases and not just focusing on one specific side of the ball,” said Payton, who runs New Orleans’ offense as part of his head-coaching duties.

Benson, Loomis and Payton attended NFL meetings together on Tuesday morning. Payton didn’t give a mea culpa for the bounty scandal in front of his peers like New England’s Bill Belichick did in 2008 following the “Spygate” videotaping scandal the previous season. Payton said he passed on speaking because “it had gotten to a point where everyone had agreed we basically said what needed to be said.”

Payton admitted that he was surprised “to some degree” at the heavy media attention the bounty scandal received and how much the story transcended football and into the mainstream. He said he appreciated the encouragement he has received from peers, Saints players, fellow coaches and NFL owners in light of the scandal. He also praised Benson for being “very supportive.”

“He’s shown great leadership and stepped up as our owner,” Payton said. “He has been amazing.”

Benson hired Payton in 2006 off Parcells’ staff with the Dallas Cowboys and was rewarded with a Lombardi Trophy when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints also have posted two subsequent postseason appearances and reached the second round of the playoff last year before losing to San Francisco.

Parcells last coached in 2006 with the Cowboys. He has a 183-138-1 overall record during stints with Dallas, New England, and both the New York Giants and Jets. He led the 1986 and 1990 Giants to Super Bowl titles. The 1996 Patriots reached Super Bowl XXXI under his watch as well.

Considered one of the most influential coaches and talent evaluators during almost three decades in the NFL, Parcells was a finalist this year for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If he coaches again, Parcells will not be eligible for induction until five years after his retirement.