His suspension lifted less than two weeks before the Super Bowl in New Orleans, Saints coach Sean Payton expressed gratitude Wednesday to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the members of his coaching staff, who ran the organization in his absence during the last year. Speaking at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., Payton also said that he was eager to get back into his football routine and try to help his team rebound from a disappointing season.
Payton was suspended last March after the NFL found that the Saints had operated a scheme that paid players for hits that injured opponents. The program was run by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who remains suspended.
Goodell Monday lifted the suspension, which was supposed to run through the Super Bowl, after conversations with Payton last Friday and a long face-to-face meeting with the coach on Monday, Payton said.
“I’m excited to be back, and certainly, getting back into a routine is a big priority right now,” Payton said. “There’s a lot that we have to do. I really appreciate the time I was able to spend with the Commissioner on Monday. We met for 4-1/2 hours, and we really had a chance to cover a lot of topics, and being reinstated now with all that’s going on, you all understand that as soon as the season ends, there’s a lot of work that goes into preparing for the next year. We need to do a lot of things, but I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
Payton added: I’m thankful to the staff…The players and coaches all went through something that was difficult.”
Payton said that he wasn’t necessarily surprised that his suspension was lifted early. He said that he had decided to accept the situation as it was and tried to establish a routine while he waited for reinstatement.
Payton said that he made it a goal of maintaining strong communication channels with Goodell and NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson.
In Payton’s absence, the Saints went 7-9 after opening the season on a four-game losing streak. But the coach said that he didn’t want to blame his absence for the poor season.
He cited the Saints’ poor defense (31st in the NFL) and rushing attack (25th in the league) for the woes.
Payton declined to discuss the specifics of the bounty system or the investigation, saying only, “It’s time to move on. It’s time for closure.” But he said that there were “certain things” that he would have done differently in retrospect.
Payton said the benefit of being reinstated early is that he can now turn his attention to fixing his team’s defense and evaluating the roster. He described the next several weeks of evaluation as a process that would be painful, but one that he and his staff were eager to tackle to get the team back on track.