Sean Payton (left) and Bill Parcells (right) after a 2006 game between Payton’s New Orleans Saints and Parcells’s Dallas Cowboys. (Matt Slocum / AP)

“If” remains the operative word.

“If the opportunity presents itself, I'll think it over and clearly I'm in some phase of the process without knowing whether it's going to become a reality,” Parcells told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. “Sean's become a dear, dear friend. I'm trying to be a friend.

“You know, when I was a young coach, there were people like Chuck Noll, Chuck Knox and Tom Landry who were there for me. I think to honor those guys who helped me, you turn around and pass that legacy on to somebody else and Sean's an example of that. If he needs me and the owner and GM feel the same way, then I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't consider it.”

Payton is expected to appeal the Bountygate suspension that is scheduled to begin Monday, with General Manager Mickey Loomis suspended for the first eight games of the season. Player suspensions by Commissioner Roger Goodell may be in the offing, as well. Payton, Parcells’s offensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys from 2003-05, and Parcells played a round of golf with Loomis and Payton on Tuesday, but the purpose was getting Parcells and Loomis acquainted. The Saints are expected to take their time with naming the interim coach.

“I know people are thinking, ‘There's a deal already done,’ ” Parcells told USA Today. “But really, he's my friend. That's the first thing this is about. I feel an obligation, a responsibility to help him.”

One of his former bosses endorses the idea of Parcells returning. “First of all, I thought it would be outstanding for the Saints and the NFL,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I see it all there. Now he has got the credibility to take it. If he came in and didn’t do as well as they were supposed to, he's got the credibility to live with that. And he’s got the confidence and reputation, if he comes, to say its Sean’s team and to live with that. And I do respect him as being one of the best there is in coaching.”

Parcells will turn 71 in August and has been working as an ESPN analyst. A return to coaching would reset the clock on his Hall of Fame eligibility, but he says he doesn’t care. “I’m not going to concern myself,” Parcells told the New York Daily News, “about something that may never happen.”

Jerry Jones, Parcells’s former boss in Dallas, would approve a decision to return, but Parcells isn’t there yet.

“I've had several people tell me ‘You need to do this,’ and I've had a few who have their doubts,” Parcells said. “Let's see what develops over the next couple of weeks. All I can tell you is this guy [Payton] is my friend and that means something to me. I want to be there for him but does that mean stepping in for him and coaching his team if I'm asked? I can't give a definitive answer on that right now because it's all hypothetical.”

Should Parcells return to the sideline? Is the move the right one for the Saints?

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