Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Updated: March 29, 7:52 AM ET
Saints owner leaves meetings
ESPN.com news services
NEW ORLEANS -- Saints owner Tom Benson left the NFL meetings Wednesday and headed back to New Orleans, where his team's top brass had major matters to discuss during what could be Sean Payton's last week of work in 2012.
Team spokesman Greg Bensel said no decisions had been made on an interim coach after a meeting Tuesday with Bill Parcells, a finalist for the Hall of Fame this season who turns 71 in August. Payton has made it clear he is hoping Parcells can help New Orleans move forward.
"We played golf," Parcells told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. "We really didn't talk about the job. They told me they would be in touch."
In an interview with Newsday on Wednesday, Parcells said the Saints situation is "a little more personal" because of his relationship with Payton.
Payton considers Parcells his mentor, and has spoken with him several times since learning last week that the NFL intended to suspend him for all of the coming season -- starting this Sunday -- for his role in New Orleans' bounty program. Payton said most of those conversations concerned how Parcells might handle a similar situation, not whether he was interested in returning to the sideline in New Orleans.
"If this guy (Payton) says to me, 'Bill, I need you to do this,' " Parcells told Newsday on Wednesday. "That's what friends are supposed to be for."
Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked Wednesday if he has a problem with Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, two men he suspended, leading the search for the team's interim coach.
"No, again, ultimately the owner is the one who is going to have to make the final decision. They're suspended of operations during that period of time, but they're going to have to make decisions on how the Saints are going to be operated either as a group or however Tom Benson wants to do that," Goodell said.
The Saints' bounty system overshadowed much of the business discussed at the NFL owner's meetings.
"It's definitely necessary to mention it," said Ron Rivera, whose Carolina Panthers play the Saints twice a year in the NFC South. "The precedent has been set by the commissioner and they need to understand that and it is not to be broached again. Going forward, we won't have to go over these things again."
The Saints are still trying to figure out how to regroup.
It could be a few days before the Saints, who are looking to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season, settle on an interim coach.
Payton said he has not decided whether to appeal and has until Monday to do so, a move that could give him a little more time at work. However, Goodell has said he would expedite such an appeal, meaning Payton's suspension might not be delayed for long.
Should there be an appeal, the Saints would want to see whether it results in a reduced penalty before deciding whether to look within the organization for Payton's stand-in.
"It would just be considering all options, to be fair and really trying to do our homework on each option before making a decision," Payton said Tuesday. "There's a lot of small steps here before we would get to that point of having to make a decision."
A source in the league office told ESPN's Rachel Nichols that if Payton appeals, the hearing and ruling would come in "days, not weeks," and that any notion that Payton could extend his working status through the draft in late April is inaccurate.
If Parcells does decide to come to New Orleans, he would take the reins from a coach he hired as an offensive assistant in Dallas back in 2003. Payton worked under Parcells for three seasons before getting his first shot as a head coach in 2006, when the Saints returned to the city after being displaced for months by Hurricane Katrina.
Loomis will be able to oversee the draft and work 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. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (now with the Rams) was suspended indefinitely.
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.
As many as 27 players also could be sanctioned for their role in the scandal.
Goodell said the NFL is trying to "proceed as quickly as possible" in determining discipline for the players involved.
"I hold coaches and executives to a higher standard. ... It is clear from the information though that players enthusiastically embraced this and pushed this and that's troubling to me," Goodell said. "We'll have to look into who was involved, how much they were involved, what influence they had and I'll do my best to make a judgment on how that should be handled from a discipline standpoint."
In addition to the penalties for Payton, Loomis and Vitt, Goodell also fined the Saints $500,000 and took away second-round draft choices in 2012 and 2013.
Information from ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols and The Associated Press was used in this report.