NFC South: Bill Parcells

CANTON, Ohio -- Welcome to Fawcett Stadium for the 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony.

I'll be blogging throughout the proceedings, as you might have noticed when this post went live a bit earlier. First, a look at the order for enshrinement and speeches for the program, which begins at 7 p.m. ET:
  • Willie Roaf: This one promises to be emotional, as anyone who witness the way Roaf's father, Clifton, hugged him during the Gold Jacket Dinner presentation Friday night. Clifton Roaf is presenting his son. The Hall encourages presenters to limit their comments to eight minutes in duration. That could be tough for the elder Roaf.
  • Jack Butler: Butler had to wait a record 50 years for enshrinement. He won't have to wait long Saturday night. The Hall has him going second.
  • Chris Doleman: The former Minnesota, Atlanta and San Francisco defensive end offered some thoughts Friday on the state of the game. I hope to share those a bit later.
  • Cortez Kennedy: The second career Seahawk to earn enshrinement will have some time to gather his thoughts. He's fourth in the order.
  • Dermontti Dawson: One of the greatest interior offensive linemen follows one of the greatest interior defensive linemen.
  • Curtis Martin: Bill Parcells is presenting Martin. Parcells could be back as an enshrinee before long. Parcells does have some star power. Having him go last wasn't a bad idea.

Should be a memorable night.

As expected, the New Orleans Saints have announced that assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt will take over the day-to-day duties of coach Sean Payton when he starts his season-long suspension Monday.

“It is important that we keep Sean Payton’s philosophy front and center during this season,’’ general manager Mickey Loomis said. “Sean has been the driving force behind the tremendous success our team has enjoyed during the past six years, his leadership will be missed.

"But we need to set a course of action that gives us the best chance to win this season without our head coach, and that is why I am announcing today that Joe Vitt will assume Sean’s duties," Loomis said. "We considered a number of great options to handle Payton's duties both internally and externally, but believe this will provide the most seamless transition for our players and our coaching staff, allowing our offensive and defensive staffs to remain intact with the fewest changes. This is the same structure we used last season during Sean's knee injury."

The Saints also issued a statement from owner Tom Benson. This is the first statement directly attributed to Benson since news of the Saints’ bounty program broke.

“This is about our program, and the continued success of our program,” Benson said. “Joe has been part of building our success along with our head coach Sean Payton and our general manager Mickey Loomis. We are looking forward to the start of the offseason program, the NFL draft, our minicamps and training camp. We are looking forward to the start of our season, as I know that all of our fans are and we are looking forward to competing and winning a championship right here in our own city, in our own stadium this year.”

[+] EnlargeJoe Vitt
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesJoe Vitt takes over for Payton, but who will fill Vitt's shoes while he's suspended for the first six games of the season?
As I’ve said before, promoting Vitt makes sense on many levels. He has been Payton’s right-hand man since the two came to the Saints in 2006. Vitt knows Payton’s system and philosophy better than anyone (and that includes Bill Parcells, who decided to stay retired). The offseason program and training camp should be seamless under Vitt, who served briefly as acting head coach last season when Payton had his leg and knee injured in a sideline collision. Vitt also previously served as the interim head coach for the St. Louis Rams.

Vitt is known for his old-school style and he knows the Saints’ personnel and other assistants well. The move makes complete sense in terms of continuity, but there’s one huge catch.

Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the season for his role in the bounty program. Vitt’s suspension won’t begin until just before the start of the regular season. That’s the same time that Loomis will begin his eight-game suspension.

Loomis didn’t lay out any plan for what the Saints will do as far as filling the roles of head coach and general manager at the start of the season. For now, Loomis said, the Saints will take things one step at a time.

“We will work through the offseason under this plan and when we get to training camp we will decide on a course of action for the first six weeks of the season, while Joe Vitt is unavailable,’’ Loomis said. “We are fortunate to have a great veteran coaching staff well equipped to handle this challenge. Joe and Sean have worked closely together to build our program, one of the most successful in the NFL in the past six years, and I have the fullest confidence that Joe will continue that success that Sean has brought us.”

It’s likely the Saints will go through the preseason and then choose another of their current assistants to open the season as the head coach. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael would seem the likely candidates. Spagnuolo has head-coaching experience, but is new to the Saints. The team could elect to go with Carmichael and let Spagnoulo focus solely on the defense. The Saints also could decide to keep Carmichael in his current role and let both coordinators focus on their side of the ball. In that scenario, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer could be the logical choice to step into a supervisory role.

Questions linger for Saints

April, 12, 2012
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There appears to be a bit of a lull in the saga of the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program. Don’t get too used to it.

This is just a momentary pause, and new developments could come at any time. Things could start happening again as soon as Thursday, and continue right up until the start of the NFL draft.

There is no timetable, because there are many variables, and the involved parties have to work through a lot of different issues. But Monday’s start of the offseason workout program provides a sense of urgency on a couple of fronts, and the start of the NFL draft in two weeks looms as another potential marker.

[+] EnlargeJoe Vitt
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesThe Saints could turn to Joe Vitt to run the team in Sean Payton's absence this season.
Between now and Monday, the Saints almost certainly will name an interim head coach. Sean Payton’s suspension starts Monday, and someone has to be in charge when the players return to the team’s facility to begin their workouts. Bill Parcells has said he’s not going to be the coach. I know Parcells has a history of changing his mind, but I don’t see that’s happening this time. He’s 71 and says he’s going to stay retired.

The Saints have to start moving on, and indications are that they’re preparing to move assistant head coach Joe Vitt into Payton’s role. The problem with that is Vitt will begin his own six-game suspension at the start of the season. But Vitt has been Payton’s top assistant since 2006, and he knows the system and the personnel as well as anyone. Putting Vitt in charge of the offseason program and letting him run the team through training camp and the preseason makes a lot of sense, because he’ll do things the way Payton did. In that scenario, the Saints would likely elevate another assistant into the top job when Vitt’s suspension begins. But Vitt could get the team ready for the season, and take control again after the sixth game.

The other issue that could see some clarity by Monday is the contract situation of quarterback Drew Brees. He currently is carrying the franchise tag, and hasn’t signed his tender. Brees was non-committal when asked if he’ll show up at the facility Monday. I’m thinking the Saints continue to talk to Brees and his agent about a long-term deal. It would make lots of sense to get something done by Monday, so this team can start the offseason program on a positive note and start the healing process.

The other issue that’s hanging out there is the possible suspension of players for their role in the bounty program. The timetable on that is even less clear. The NFL has given no strong indication of when it plans to announce any potential disciplinary action. News could come this week or next. It almost certainly has to come before the NFL draft begins April 26. We don’t know how many current Saints could be suspended or how long those potential suspensions will last. It’s only fair that the Saints know what they’re up against before the draft. If they’re going to be without several players for multiple games, they’ll need to find replacements, and the draft is one way to accomplish that.

Video: Bill Parcells staying retired

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
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Bill Parcells talks to Mike Tirico about why he is staying retired and not taking the Saints' interim head coach job.

Saints looking at Plan B and C?

April, 10, 2012
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We still don’t know who will be coaching the New Orleans Saints next season, but we know who won’t.

Bill Parcells has informed the Saints he prefers to remain retired, Chris Mortensen reported Tuesday morning.

Coach Sean Payton, who begins a season-long suspension Monday, had given indications he wanted his mentor to come out of retirement and take over the team. That apparently isn’t going to happen and there don’t appear to be any other outside candidates.

I liked the idea of Parcells pinch-hitting for Payton. They have a lot of similarities and I think the arrangement could have worked nicely. But Parcells is 71, hasn’t coached since the 2006 season with Dallas and apparently isn’t up for a return.

This isn’t the end of the world for the Saints. Mortensen reports there are growing indications assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt will take over as the interim head coach.

But there’s one problem with that. In a perfect world, the Saints automatically would have made Vitt the head coach because he’s been Payton’s right-hand man since 2006. But the Saints are living in a far-from-perfect world these days as they deal with the NFL discipline for their bounty program. Vitt also is tied up in this mess.

Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the regular season. But his suspension does not begin until the start of the regular season. That’s great for the short term.

Vitt can run the offseason program and can guide the Saints through training camp and the preseason. That means it’s business as usual right up until the start of the regular season.

But what happens then? If Vitt indeed is named the interim head coach, do the Saints name an interim interim coach for the first six games of the season?

That seems to be the most likely scenario.

The candidates for that role would be offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. If one of them is taking over only while Vitt is out, I think it might make some sense to put Kromer in a supervisor role. That would allow Spagnulo, who is new to the Saints, to focus on the defense. It also would allow Carmichael to focus only on a complex offense.

It’s not going to be a normal season for the Saints. But, putting Vitt in the top role for the short term and back in it as soon as his suspension is over, might be the best way to keep things as close to Payton’s way as possible.

Big news day in NFC South

April, 10, 2012
4/10/12
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We’ve got news breaking all around the NFC South on Tuesday morning.

I’m out at One Buccaneer Place, where Tampa Bay general manager Mark Domink just said the team is releasing safety Tanard Jackson. Dominik said Jackson, who was recovering from a shoulder injury, failed a physical. Jackson previously served a one-year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but Dominik emphasized he wasn’t aware of any new failed drug tests or discipline coming from the league office.

Elsewhere, Chris Mortensen reports that Bill Parcells is unlikely to step in as the coach of the New Orleans Saints. Adam Schefter reports Carolina’s Steve Smith has agreed to a three-year contract extension.

I’ll be back shortly with analysis of all three news developments.
Chris Mortensen reports it’s a virtual certainty that Bill Parcells will not be the interim head coach of the New Orleans Saints.

You can check out the news story here. I’m about to head into an interview and will be back shortly to analyze what this news means for the Saints.
Soon after the news initially broke that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton would be suspended for the 2012 season, there was a lot of speculation that his mentor, Bill Parcells, would step in to coach the Saints.

Well, Payton’s appeal of his suspension has been heard and nothing has changed. He’s scheduled to start his suspension April 16. But it doesn’t sound like anything is imminent with Parcells.

"I have not spoken to anyone from the Saints in over six days. Know absolutely nothing," Parcells said in a text message to the New York Daily News.

Parcells was asked by the newspaper if he wants to coach the Saints and if the team wants him to be its coach.

"(I) do not know answer to either question,’’ Parcells said in another text.

I wouldn’t go reading too much into this either way. This is a very fluid situation and the Saints might have been waiting to see how their appeals went before moving forward.

You also have to factor in that you’re talking about Parcells. This is a guy that’s been known to change his mind. He twice agreed to become the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and twice backed out of the agreement.

Stay tuned.

Players on deck for punishments

April, 9, 2012
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Now we know for certain that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton will be suspended for the 2012 season, general manager Mickey Loomis will be suspended for the first eight games, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt will be out for the first six games.

Did anybody think they had a chance when they were making their appeals to the same man (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) who issued the punishments in the first place?

Sometime soon, I’m pretty sure we’ll find out who will take over for Payton. It could be Bill Parcells or someone else from outside, or it could be one of the current New Orleans assistants. That almost certainly has to come before the Saints begin their offseason program April 16.

But there still is one very big unknown in this whole saga. That’s potential punishments for players. In its initial announcement of punishments for Payton and the others, the NFL said anywhere from 22 to 27 players were involved in a three-year bounty program. Other than middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the initial report was very vague about player involvement. But the league has said it collected a mountain of evidence in its investigation, and that player discipline could include fines and suspensions.

The league hasn’t said anything about a timetable for announcing player punishments, but this report says they’re likely to become between now and April 26. That makes total sense, because April 26 is the date the NFL draft starts. That’s one of the biggest events of the year, and it’s likely the league doesn’t want to take any attention off it by allowing the matter of player discipline to linger.

There’s another factor that could be creating a bit of a sense of urgency to make decisions on player punishment. There’s no doubt the NFL has taken away some competitive advantage from the Saints with the first round of punishments. But the league also has given the Saints time to prepare for them.

The Saints don’t have a draft pick until the third round, but this still remains an important draft for the Saints. If they know who will be suspended and for how long, they’ll have a chance to get some possible replacements in the draft. I think it's fair for the Saints to know before the draft which players they might have to look to replace.
If nothing else, Sean Payton’s appeal of his one-year suspension from the NFL has bought him one more week as coach of the New Orleans Saints.

It could end up being the biggest week of Payton’s coaching career. Yeah, it’s mid-April and, seemingly, there’s nothing going on right now. But there’s a lot for Payton to take care of in the next week.

Payton
Payton
It’s been apparent that he and general manager Mickey Loomis, who will be suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season, are doing most of the leg work in finding a replacement for Payton. They’ve talked to Bill Parcells. Even if they can coax Parcells out of retirement, the Saints will have to interview at least one other candidate to satisfy the Rooney Rule, which applies only if the team brings in a coach from outside. It’s also possible the Saints could stay inside and make offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo or offensive line coach Aaron Kromer the head coach.

It’s also possible the Saints could go with one of their current assistants and still bring on Parcells in some sort of role as a consultant or special assistant. In that scenario, Parcells’ five-year clock for Hall of Fame election wouldn’t have to start over.

However the replacement part plays out, Payton has a lot of other things to do in the next week. He’s known for being extremely organized, and it’s likely he’ll want to leave a detailed plan for his replacement that will include how to run offseason workouts (which begin next week), training camp, the preseason and even some general plans for the regular season.

Payton doesn’t handle contract negotiations. That’s Loomis’ job, and his suspension doesn’t start until the beginning of the regular season. But the Saints have another brewing crisis on their hands.

They placed the franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees at the start of free agency. Brees and the Saints have said they want to work a long-term deal, but nothing has been finalized. For another week, Payton has a lot of clout in determining what happens with the Saints.

The coach wants to leave his team set up as well as possible for the 2012 season. The best thing he can do in that time is use his influence to make sure Brees gets signed to a long-term deal.

Saints' ruling coming soon?

April, 9, 2012
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly is expected to announce his decision on the New Orleans Saints’ appeals of their punishments for running a three-year bounty program soon, perhaps as early as Monday afternoon.

Stay tuned. I’ll be here with analysis soon after any announcement comes. But I’m guessing there’s little chance Goodell will change his mind on the one-year suspension of coach Sean Payton and the eight-game suspension of general manager Mickey Loomis. If the suspensions are upheld, it’s likely Payton’s will start immediately or close to it.

Payton initially was supposed to start his suspension April 1, but the appeal has bought him some more time.

Once a decision is made on the appeals, this story is far from over. The Saints will have to put a new coach in place and we’ll see if it’s Bill Parcells, someone else from outside, or one of Payton’s current assistants. A decision on that likely will come very soon, because the Saints begin their offseason program in one week.

Speaking of the start of offseason workouts, their start also adds a sense of urgency for the Saints to work out a long-term contract with quarterback Drew Brees. Right now, he’s carrying the franchise tag, but hasn’t signed it. If Brees hasn’t signed the tag by next week, I’m guessing he won’t be joining his teammates for workouts. That’s why it’s critical that the Saints and Brees work out something soon.

The other thing that’s hanging out there is possible player suspensions. The NFL has said 22 to 27 players were involved in the bounty program and could face fines or suspensions. League officials have met with representatives of the NFL Players Association, but the league hasn’t set any timetable for announcing player discipline.

The New Orleans Saints have finished appealing their punishments for their bounty program.

Coach Sean Payton appealed his one-year suspension. General manager Mickey Loomis appealed his eight-game suspension. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt appealed his six-game suspension. The Saints also appealed their $500,000 fine and their loss of two draft picks. The only person who has been given a punishment who didn’t appeal was former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He left the Saints for the St. Louis Rams and has been suspended indefinitely.

So what comes next after the appeals?

Well, that’s mostly up to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s the man who first issued the punishments and he’s the man who heard the appeals.

We don’t know exactly what Payton, Loomis and Vitt had to say in their hearings with Goodell. Payton and Loomis didn’t address the media after their hearings. Vitt spoke briefly with the media as he exited the NFL office and his lawyer David Cornwell portrayed Williams as a “rogue coach," who Cornwell said defied orders from Payton and Loomis to stop the bounty program.

Whatever was said behind closed doors, I expect Goodell to make a decision on the appeals pretty quickly. But it remains unclear if the NFL previously was aware of the tapes of Williams speaking to the defense the night before last season’s playoff game with San Francisco that became public Thursday. If the league wasn’t aware of the tapes, it could stall things a bit.

There has been media speculation Goodell could announce a decision as soon as Friday. That’s possible, but I could also see this lingering into next week because of the holiday weekend.

If Goodell upholds the suspensions, Payton’s would start immediately. Loomis and Vitt aren’t scheduled to start their suspensions until the start of the regular season. If Payton is suspended, I’d expect the Saints to act quickly to put someone in his place. It could be retired coach Bill Parcells, perhaps someone else from the outside or from Payton’s current staff (offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer seem to be the most likely candidates).

The Saints are scheduled to start their offseason program April 16 and, if Payton is out, they likely would want to have his replacement in place by then.

But the appeals aren’t the only issues hanging out there. The NFL has said anywhere from 22 to 27 players were involved in the bounty program. The league has said the players could face fines and suspensions. Goodell recently met with leaders from the NFL Players Association, but hasn’t offered any firm timeline for when he will announce any possible player punishments.

Oh, there’s one other pretty major thing the Saints need to do soon. They’ve got an unhappy quarterback, Drew Brees, who has been hit with the franchise tag. It might be nice to have Brees signed to a long-term deal quickly. That would assure Brees will show up for the offseason program.

That would be hugely important. If Payton is suspended, the Saints are going to need Brees’ leadership skills more than ever.

Saints on 'Hard Knocks'?

April, 4, 2012
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USA Today sports television writer Michael Hiestand throws out a fascinating suggestion, writing that the New Orleans Saints should be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ this summer.

It would be a fascinating story -- a close-up look at a team preparing to go through a season without suspended head coach Sean Payton. There could be even many more layers to this story before training camp arrives. Bill Parcells could be in Payton’s place and it’s possible multiple players also could be facing suspensions. This is unprecedented stuff for an NFL team and the drama could be tremendous.

Would the Saints accept if the show is offered to them? Tough question. In normal years, I’d say no. Payton runs a tight ship and I’d have a tough time seeing him giving cameras total access to his team. But this is not a normal year. Despite all the turmoil that has come out of the bounty program, the Saints have some charming players that could put this team back in a positive light. This might not be a bad move.

Could any other NFC South teams be candidates for the show?

The Atlanta Falcons last year made some vague statements that they could be interested if the time was right. Atlanta has the kind of veteran team that could probably handle the distractions that might come with this. But I have a tough time seeing coach Mike Smith being in favor of opening up his locker room and meeting rooms to the world.

The Carolina Panthers are viewed as a team on the rise and quarterback Cam Newton is a media darling. That could make the Panthers interesting to HBO and NFL Films. But as long as Marty Hurney is the general manager, I don’t see the Panthers going down this road.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were courted for the show last season and former coach Raheem Morris was lobbying for his team to be on the show. Ultimately, the Bucs declined. They said they wanted to make sure their young team was at a point in its development where it could handle potential distractions. That was probably a wise move because last season showed the Bucs were far from a finished product. My early impressions of new coach Greg Schiano are that he’s not the kind of guy that would want to put his team in the spotlight. That could change once Schiano’s been around a year or two, but I’m guessing the Bucs aren’t interested this year.

Around the NFC South

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
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Time for a run through the top headlines from around the NFC South.
  • Although it had been widely reported that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would hear appeals from New Orleans coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis on their suspensions Tuesday, Adam Schefter now reports the appeals might have to be pushed back.
  • Gerry Vaillancourt writes that making Bill Parcells interim head coach of the Saints would be a mistake. I’m already on the record saying I think putting Parcells in Payton’s place is a wise move. But I’ve known Gerry since our days together in Charlotte and always respect his opinions. His main argument is that going with Parcells would be a slight to the assistants currently on Payton’s staff. Point taken, but I’m not sure offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael is vocal enough to be a head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has experience as a head coach, but is new to the Saints and doesn’t know their personnel yet. But I’ll throw out one other scenario I could see making sense -- make Carmichael or Spagnuolo or even offensive line coach Aaron Kromer the head coach and bring Parcells on as a “special assistant." That’s what the Buccaneers did with Butch Davis. If Parcells isn’t coaching, the clock on his Hall of Fame candidacy doesn’t have to start all over. Plus, Parcells also has experience on the personnel side and that could come in handy when Loomis’ suspension begins at the start of the season.
  • Former Atlanta Falcons coach Bobby Petrino, currently the coach at the University of Arkansas, was injured in a motorcycle crash. Petrino reportedly is in stable condition.
  • Former New Orleans linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar has agreed to terms with the St. Louis Rams. Dunbar was a versatile and dependable backup, who wound up starting 14 games last year. I think the Saints wanted to keep him, but their salary-cap situation made that impossible.
  • As the Buccaneers opened their offseason program (they get a two-week head start because they made a coaching change), coach Greg Schiano said “Today marks the beginning of something." There’s no doubt about that because it’s the first time the players get to work with the new staff. But I also think this may be the start of something good. The Bucs have some good young talent, they added some big-name free agents and everything I’ve seen out of and heard about Schiano is that he’s a very organized coach. I’m not ready to say the Bucs are going to go out and win the Super Bowl, or even the NFC South, right away, but I think they’ll be much better than the 4-12 team they were last season.

Video: Bill Parcells no lock for Saints

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
11:30
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Adam Schefter with the latest on the possibility Bill Parcells fills in as Saints interim coach.

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