NEW ORLEANS — Decisions are still pending on a possible appeal of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton’s suspension or an interim coach should his season-long punishment be upheld, a person familiar with the situation said.
The person said Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and their staffs were in meetings at the team’s suburban headquarters Thursday and focused primarily on preparations for next month’s NFL draft. The person spoke to The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because the Saints have not announced their plans.
“Everyone is working hard, in draft meetings, et cetera ... trying to get better,” the person said.
Payton’s suspension in connection with the Saints’ bounty scandal is slated to begin on Sunday, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he has until Monday to appeal.
Payton has sought advice on the matter from his friend and retired coach Bill Parcells, who has told several media outlets he’d consider taking the Saints’ interim coaching job if Payton, his protégé, asked him to take over.
“I had plenty of opportunities to do things with different teams, and I’ve turned them all down,” Parcells, who turns 71 in August, told the New York Daily News. “But this one is special. This guy is like family to me. And if I could help him, I would.”
Payton began working with Parcells in 2003, when he was hired as an offensive assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. The two have been close ever since and Payton, throughout his six seasons as New Orleans’ head coach, has continued consulting his mentor on numerous matters, including how to handle preparations for the 2010 Super Bowl.
However, the Saints must clear up several matters before they can choose an interim coach. They must not only decide whether to appeal, but would have to see if an appeal resulted in a reduced punishment.
If Payton’s punishment is upheld, the Saints could then proceed with finding an interim coach either from their own staff or outside the organization. If the Saints choose the latter approach and Parcells becomes a top candidate, the club would still have to interview a minority candidate under the NFL’s “Rooney Rule.”
“I don’t know how this is going to play out,” Parcells, who was a Hall of Fame finalist this year, told the newspaper. “I really don’t know anything about the situation. There’s a lot of things going on here, and I would suspect it’s going to take a while to all sort out.”
There are also three strong candidates among Saints assistants to take over as interim coach: offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Payton expressed confidence in the abilities of his own assistants to compensate for his absence, but also has voiced some misgivings about saddling those coaches with additional responsibilities.
“We feel like we’ve got a number of good candidates” on the staff, Payton said earlier this week at NFL meetings in Florida. “The trick then is what it does to affect their roles that they currently have.”
The appeal process itself, should Payton choose that route, is not expected to give him much additional time to work. Goodell has said he would expedite that process, indicating that it is highly unlikely Payton would be able to keep working through the draft in late April if he files an unsuccessful appeal.
That is why Payton is spending long hours with Loomis, other coaches and scouts reviewing draft prospects this week. Payton said he has also laid out plans for the offseason training program and the beginning of training camp, up until the Saints play Arizona in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio.
If this is indeed Payton’s final week of work in 2012, Loomis will be able to oversee the draft and handle other roster moves up until the season starts. Then he is slated to serve his eight-game suspension for failing to put a stop to the bounty system in a timely way. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, is facing a six-game suspension.
The NFL’s investigation in New Orleans found that Payton initially lied to league investigators about the existence of a bounty and instructed his defensive assistants to do the same. Payton twice apologized for his role in an enterprise that offered payouts for knocking out opponents, saying he takes “full responsibility” for a system that operated for three years under his watch.
The NFL has said as many as 27 players also could be sanctioned for their role in the scandal.