Be afraid! Be very afraid!!
Little more than two years ago, hours after the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, Sean Payton held a bleary-eyed morning news conference. With Mardi Gras beads around his neck and the Lombardi Trophy slung over one shoulder, Payton appeared to be celebrating the sublime revival of a city brought low by Hurricane Katrina as well as the dominance of a defense against three likely hall of fame quarterbacks. Near the end, Payton noted that with quarterback Drew Brees in his prime, the Saints burned to separate themselves further from the rest of the NFL.
The party, one that Payton oversaw as one of the league's most powerful coaches, screeched to a halt last week as the Saints separated themselves from the league in a most unsavory way. The NFL suspended Payton for the 2012 season for failing to stop, and working to cover up, the three-year existence of a bounty system that included targeting four quarterbacks, two of whom the Saints beat during their championship run, Kurt Warner and Brett Favre.
The severity of the punishment - the NFL had never suspended a head coach - was said to have stunned Payton and the Saints. Payton, whose duties include personnel matters and calling offensive plays, must stop working on April 1. A person briefed on the suspension said the league's edict did not offer details but broadly prohibited Payton from being involved in coaching the team. Could he buy a ticket to sit in the stands at a game? Probably. Could he have a three-hour phone call with Brees to discuss the game plan? No.
The NFL has no realistic way of monitoring Payton's interaction with Brees or anyone else in the organization. But the implication is that if the NFL finds out that Payton has violated the suspension, he will be in even deeper trouble.
Payton will lose at least $6 million in salary from the Saints and could seek work elsewhere, perhaps in television. On Friday, representatives for ESPN, NBC and CBS indicated that they had no plans to hire him. But Fox Sports, which carries NFC games during the season, is open to the possibility.
"Our feeling about Sean is that he's bright, articulate and obviously contemporary," said Lou D'Ermilio, Fox's senior vice president for communications. "Any network with NFL rights would have to consider it."
The league responded in a statement: "He is suspended from the NFL for the season. His involvement in any non-NFL employment or business matters is not our decision."
The Saints' immediate future is no easier to predict.
"It's a disturbing situation in terms of how they proceed," said Bill Polian, the former president of the Indianapolis Colts, who is now an ESPN analyst. "It's a shock. It's a shock to the whole organization."
The Saints have an urgent need to designate an interim coach. But that is not an easy decision. Joe Vitt, the assistant head coach, would have been an obvious choice, but he was suspended for six games. The offensive coordinator, Pete Carmichael, who called plays last season after Payton hurt his knee, would be Polian's choice because the offense is experienced and established.
But the defense is being overhauled under the new coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, and Carmichael is familiar with the way Payton runs practices and meetings. Charley Casserly, the former Houston Texans general manager who is now an analyst for NFL Network, said he would make Spagnuolo the interim coach because he has previous head coaching experience and because Casserly would prefer to leave intact the staff for the high-powered offense, the team's backbone.
Whomever general manager Mickey Loomis, owner Tom Benson and Payton choose as interim coach will spend intensive time with Payton and Loomis before April 1. Payton had considerable say on personnel decisions, and Loomis must direct next month's draft without him. Although Loomis also will be around for the final roster cuts in the summer, he and the interim coach will want to determine personnel plans while Payton is still available. During Loomis' eight-game suspension, senior members of the personnel staff will manage any transactions caused by injuries.
The interim coach will probably also talk to Payton about team priorities and running practices and offseason workouts. But after that, the interim coach will be on his own.
"The biggest difficulty is you cannot run this team like Sean Payton did," former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You can't do it for a year. So many decisions are made by the head coach, you can't say, 'What would Sean do here?' "
Polian said the interim coach would have to accede to Payton's wishes as much as possible. But on April 16, when teams can begin their offseason programs, the interim coach will have to take control of his staff and his players. The trading deadline will come and go without Loomis and Payton, so the interim coach will lean on the personnel staff. The innumerable, unpredictable issues that confront teams every season will test the staff, particularly if players get in trouble or injuries mount while Loomis is gone, too.
Whether the Saints can win like this remains to be seen. Most people around the league say it will be very difficult under these conditions because Payton is the organization's central figure.
New Orleans Saints revolve around Sean Payton . . . until April 1 - TwinCities.com
Be afraid indeed!
I may be biased, but I honestly am not that worried about the team, as long as Drew gets his deal done. The only thing that Mickey Loomis will miss is the trading deadline, as the above article so over-dramatically pointed out. Mid-season trades in the NFL happen about as often as the Falcons win playoff games. So who gives a crap about the trading deadline?
I would feel more comfortable with Payton on the sidelines, but Drew knows the offense and almost the entire starting lineup is back, so the chemistry is still there, as well. I'm mainly just mad about the way the Saints were singled out and treated like a band of murderers. But this team, along with the guy's we've brought in, will be even better than before.
And as for player suspensions, for one, a number of the guys who will likely be implicated have either long been gone, or they are about to be released. And if there still happens to be a high number of suspended players on the team when the season starts, then the NFL will most likely stagger the suspensions, at least a little bit. So again, add the newcomers to the mix and I think we still have a better defense than last year, personnel wise, or at least not any worse..
With Spags coaching the D, I'm feeling pretty good about our chances.
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