Payton '100%' sure he'll return, will talk to Parcells

Soon-to-be-suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was humble and unsure about what's next for him and his team but insisted on two things:
This article was written by Jim Corbett and appeared in USA Today.

He is "100%" sure he'll be back coaching the Saints for the 2013 season
And Payton will meet with former NFL head coach Bill Parcells about filling his role during his one-year suspension which takes effect Sunday

Beyond that, the usually ultra-confident Saints coach stood at the center of the Breakers Hotel lobby, his mood as subdued as his blue-gray sports jacket. Payton, 48, was surrounded by a media crowd thicker than any gathering near any of the AFC coaches during their breakfast, which was occurring simultaneously, and spoke for nearly 18 minutes.

Payton said he, Saints owner Tom Benson and GM Mickey Loomis intend to meet with Parcells about replacing Payton on an interim basis while his temporarily exiled for his role in the team's three-year pay-for-pain bounty reward system which sought to sideline opponents.

Parcells, 70, lives in nearby Jupiter, Fla.

"I'll have a chance to meet with him while I'm down here,'' Payton said. "My conversations with Bill to date have just been about the uniqueness with this situation. ... (But) we'd just be considering all options to be fair and really trying to do our homework on each option before making a decision.

"The specifics in regards to him coaching -- and I've read a lot of the reports -- that would be something that Mickey and I and our owner and Bill would deal with at a later time.''

In 22 years as a head coach, Parcells is 183-138-1 and won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants while guiding the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI. Payton served as Parcells' assistant head coach with the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-05 before he was hired to take over the Saints.

"He's a great teacher, certainly I'm biased having worked with him,'' said Payton of a man he considers a father figure. "He's a Hall of Fame head coach.

"And I would also say there's some things set up in the framework of our program that would be exactly how he would have set those up had he been here back in '06.''

How open is Parcells to a return given he's been out of the game for six years and an interim gig would set the time clock back five years on his Hall of Fame eligibility?

"We really haven't gotten into it,'' Payton said. "I've really called him more as a mentor, someone to shoot some ideas off of. ... Obviously, this is different. I speak to him pretty regularly in regards to advice.

"For me to be down here, if I didn't set up a time to see him, I'd probably get his wrath. ... Right now, it's been more as an adviser, as a parent. That's really what he's been to me.''

And what was Parcells' best advice?

"Just in handling this candidly, being up front and understanding the specifics that operate within our league,'' Payton said. "He's been very supportive.''

Payton said part of the decision on who will step in as interim coach "would be predicated on whether or not we have an appeal or not. That could possibly push back the decision on the head coach.''

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has set April 2 as a deadline for Payton to appeal.

"We haven't decided yet,'' Payton said. "There's a lot to do here in a short period of time as you can imagine with the draft coming up, our specific coaching staff. ... We're trying to get through all that very quickly. By the end of this month, we'll make a decision on that.''

The disgraced coach was reflective on the professional and collateral damage done to his reputation.

"The biggest challenge is driving in here this morning -- this is probably 39 years as a Pop Warner player, high school player, a college player and then college coach, professional coach -- this potentially is the first time in 39 years you're not directly involved in football for a season,'' he said. "That being said, I look forward to getting back in this position. I look forward to winning. And we'll do that.''

Payton chose to attend the three-day owners meetings only because Tuesday is the day when general managers and coaches meet. He had no plan to address his fellow coaches regarding his club's three-year bounty program.

Payton planned to leave later today and get back to the business of mapping the Saints' immediate future.

As for his mindset?

"You go through a range of emotions that hit you,'' he said. "You're disappointed in yourself that it got to this point. ... You're trained as coaches to begin preparation right away. I found myself reflecting on it. You go through a lot of emotions.''

Payton empathized with Goodell but insisted no player was seriously injured during the time of the bounty program's existence.

"The Commissioner has done a great job with us throughout this process,'' Payton said. "Being in a leadership role myself as a head coach, I certainly understand the position he's in. He's made it clear for good reason. We've got such a good product right now. The idea of something with this magnitude is an important issue he wanted to address.''

Payton has assumed full responsibility for the team's actions and the resulting sanctions, which included an eight-game suspension for Loomis, a six-game ban for assistant coach Joe Vitt, a $500,000 fine for the organization and forfeiture of second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

"Listen, there's a number of things specifically in the report. some of which I can't comment on,'' he said. "As the head coach, anything that happens between the framework of your team and your program, you're responsible for. ... That's a lesson I've learned. It's easy to get carried away with one side of the ball, either offensively or defensively. And that's something I regret."

Yet Payton claimed he was unaware of the program until after the team had won Super Bowl XLIV following the 2009 season.

"The first awareness was after the '09-10 season, and that's when the league came in and visited with a few people,'' he said.

Payton doesn't know what he'll do and wouldn't specifically address a report he's been offered an analyst's job with the Fox network.

"I don't know yet,'' he said. "The specifics with the suspension is one in which we're still trying to gather information as well. Hopefully staying involved as best I can. And then we'll be able to make that decision sooner than later. ... Right now, the checklist of things to do is what occupies my mind most.''

He'll have plenty of time later to reflect on the mark the bounty program will leave on him and his team, though he addressed his concern, "That this would put a taint or tarnish the success we had. I think our players feel that same way.

"We won 41 games in the last three years, that's hard to do. That's done through hard work. It's done through discipline, having good football players that are very coachable. So when we found ourselves maybe in a two-game losing streak or relocated because of a hurricane (Katrina) or going through some tough times, we've always responded well. This is uniquely different. But I do think our players and our coaches will take that response.

"Certainly, you take lumps, and I've taken them before,'' he added. "But I look forward to getting back, and I look forward to winning and being successful.''

Which isn't to say Payton doesn't feel his penance is undeserved.

"No, I accept this," he said. "Trying to really look closely at how we and how I can improve is probably a better way for me to handle this than to kind of vent or to look outwardly at other programs, and I've tried to take that approach.''

He'll have plenty of time to consider such measures as he heads toward the uncertainty of his first season without football in nearly four decades.

This article was written by Jim Corbett and appeared in USA Today.
(Photo By Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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