|Parcells hired Payton as his offensive coordinator in Dallas in 2003. (AP)|
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Sean Payton made an appearance here and as he has done for some weeks now he once again rocked the NFL. A 17-minute interview with reporters while standing in a hotel lobby turned these meetings on their head and gave insight into the mind of one of the more scandalous figures in sports.
It was a hastily gathered news conference, almost surreal, with about only 25 or so journalists present. Payton was wearing a blue suit with no tie and looked as if he hadn't slept for days. Many expected a defiant Payton. But instead Payton was contrite, blunt, honest and answered each of the approximately 30 questions posed to him. He dodged nothing.
"You find out how close some of your friends are," Payton said, speaking of the reaction of his NFL coaching friends.
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"You go through a range of emotions," he said. "You're disappointed in yourself. You're disappointed you let it get to this point."
Those were the types of comments he made. For one of the first times ever, we saw Sean the Contrite instead of Mr. Arrogant.
The Saints have been accused by the NFL of running a bounty system designed to intentionally injure players for extra cash. The difference between what the Saints did and other teams that have run bounty systems, some for decades, is the Saints institutionalized their bounty system. They did to bounties what McDonald's did to hamburgers thus increasing the risk to player safety.
As a result Payton has been suspended by the NFL for an entire year. These were Payton's first public comments on the bounty scandal outside of his previous written statement.
There were several takeaways from Payton's meeting with the media:
• Payton plans to meet with Parcells on Tuesday. The more you listened to Payton the more it seemed the possibility of Parcells taking over the team for the year in Payton's absence seems realistic. It sounds as if this could really happen.
"Most of my conversations with Bill have been about the unusualness of the situation," Payton said, but he also admitted that the idea of Parcells coaching the Saints is receiving serious consideration.
Payton also said he believes it would be easier for Parcells to quickly step in because Payton constructed the Saints the way the Parcells would have.
• Payton said he still hasn’t decided if he's going to appeal his suspension. But it sure sounds like that possibility also is increasing.
• Payton said he has yet to read the bounty report. That was the only totally unbelievable thing he stated. How could that possibly be true?
• Payton was somewhat circumspect when asked about the comments Roger Goodell made Monday. Goodell said the Saints attempted to deceive NFL investigators as recently as several weeks ago. That would mean the team embarked on a disinformation campaign to the league that was ongoing as recently as this month. It was a damning statement from Goodell.
Payton said he heard the comments but added that "I don't know if he made mention of that directly to me" in the two meetings between Payton and Goodell. But Payton quickly added that he understands the position the commissioner is in and respects his decisions.
• Payton said he has not spoken to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The NFL is continuing to investigate Williams, now focusing on his time in Washington, according to various sources.
• Payton said he is keeping his in-suspension options open. It's highly likely Payton will work in television.
• Payton is still trying to figure out exactly what he will be allowed to do during his suspension. He won't be allowed to coach the team but Goodell was vague with the media on the parameters of Payton's suspension.
One of the more interesting questions rising from the bounty scandal is its effect on the Saints' Super Bowl. The situation is similar to the Patriots and Spygate. The idea is actually a silly one. While what the Saints did was despicable it doesn't tarnish a championship. Payton also said as much.
"I think the hardest thing ... the idea this would tarnish the success we had," he said, "We won 41 games the past three years. That's hard to do.
"Our fans back in New Orleans have been amazing. My peers, guys that I'm close with in this league, the players on our team, it's like a family. That's the thing that gets you through something like this."
No, the bounty turmoil does not tarnish the Super Bowl win, but it does diminish Payton's career. This will stick to him forever and there seems to be a part of him that gets that.
Payton said he definitely plans on coaching after his yearlong suspension is over (assuming he appeals and that appeal is denied). And with the answer to that question, Payton walked off into meetings. It is likely this is the last time we will hear from Payton for some time.