Really nice job by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune today for his interview with Saints coach Sean Payton. It was an exclusive and lengthy talk with Payton, who has been out of sight (but not out of mind) because of the Bounty Penalties. In fact, I think we learned a thing or two.
Want a quick run-down of what stood out? OK then….
— This suspension has given Payton a chance to spend time with his kids. And that’s pretty cool. It seems coaches really do seem to relish this part of it, especially when they are forced to take a step back. A lot of them say that. But I really liked how Payton put his money where his mouth is. He turned down a TV job because it would have interfered with coaching his kid’s football team. “Ultimately I decided I’d rather not,” Payton told the Times-Pic. “I don’t want to take off on Saturdays an hour after we play.”
— Payton may have stepped away, but not that much. It’s an interesting visual to imagine him watching the Saints game on Sunday, seeing something he likes from the TV copy, and taking out “a few pads and papers, making notes,” as he put it. In a way, it’s sad. Coaches hate the TV copy, yet Payton really doesn’t have a choice. As one would expect, his eyes have been opened to what he didn’t see before. “You obviously get a much different perspective watching games on TV and film than being on the sideline and actually being in them,” he said. “When you step away, you can see things you might not have seen otherwise from sideline.” Coaches sometimes come out from being fired as new and improved. Bill Belichick is one example. I wonder if Payton will follow suit after his suspension.
— When Payton was asked about that poster that says, “Do your job!” with his big mug on it, he seemed legitimately touched. He went on and on about how supportive owner Tom Benson has been, though he cracked when he returns that, poster is coming down. It’s strange to think of Payton being unsure of his place, but it’s natural considering he was forced to leave for a year. Sounds like he’s just happy everyone hasn’t forgotten about him. That’s what I loved about this interview. Some real feelings.
— Payton is an offensive assistant for his kid’s Pop Warner team, and he runs the show like it’s the NFL. Figure the system is just as complex as you’d think it is. He even quipped that players have “12 plays on the wristband,” he said. That’s just funny. Shoot, it’ll probably help those kids come high school.
— It was interesting to hear him dance around the questions about his punishment and why some have spoken out against the NFL, but he hasn’t. Some players have said nothing existed, coaches have said there wasn’t any pay-for-injury system, etc. Others have acknowledged performance bonuses. Payton has kept quiet. Why? He took the pragmatic approach. One, he doesn’t feel protected, noting, “We’re in a much different position than the players, in regards to players having a union.” Then, he added, “I think ultimately our goal is to get reinstated at the right time.” That, to me, means Payton is choosing his future return over trying to wage a public battle against the past. Essentially, he’s chosen not to fight. Because he knows the punishment fits? Because he’s already apologized and acknowledges what he did wrong? Because there is no point and minds are made up? It’s left unsaid. But Payton clearly has shown he believes some punishment was justified, since he has not fought it. Later, Payton says he doesn’t wish he fought the charges: “We tried to do everything possible to show as much as cooperation as possible.” If Payton did not believe punishment was warranted, why would he cooperate at all?
— Speaking of that… Payton was asked about his biggest regret and his only comment of substance on the matter is this: “When you’re the head coach, you’ve got to pay attention to all areas of your football team.” What does that mean? Well, in my eyes, it acknowledges wrongdoing on a level that Joe Vitt and many of the Saints have not. But it also takes blame off himself as it relates to intent. Payton is basically saying he didn’t do it, but he should’ve been aware of what others were doing. That is his stance.
— I get asked all the time, particularly on radio shows, how much of a difference will it make with Payton not on the sidelines. And I honestly don’t know. There isn’t much (if any) precedent. But one thing about the Saints… they’ve done a great job of making sure the transition from coach to interim coach to other interim coach is seemless. As Payton points out, “I’ve seen where we’re the only team with the same ownership, GM, coach and quarterback all have been the same since ’06. And all that lends to that stability and allows you to handle challenges.” We’ll see how they do.