PALM BEACH, Fla. — Sean Payton got out of a car outside The Breakers hotel Tuesday morning, walked into the ornate lobby of the ocean-side resort and prepared to participate in the NFL’s annual meeting. It was likely to be, he knew, one of the final things he does as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints before beginning to serve his pending season-long suspension by the league.
“Certainly you take lumps,” Payton said as he stood in the lobby just after 7:30 a.m. “And I’ve taken them before. But I look forward to getting back. I look forward to winning and being successful and being a part of it. . . . As a Pop Warner player, a high school player, a college player, and then a college coach, a professional coach, this is potentially the first time in 39 years that you’re not directly involved in football for a season.”
Payton spoke to a group of reporters for close to 18 minutes, making his first public comments — aside from a written statement issued through the Saints — since being suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week for his role in his team’s system that paid players for hits that injured opponents. Payton expressed disappointment in himself.
“I think you go through a range of emotions that kind of hit you,” Payton said. “You’re disappointed in yourself that it got to this point. And then I think we’re trained as coaches to begin preparation right away. I find myself reflecting on it. You go through a lot of emotions.”
He said he had not yet decided whether to appeal his suspension. Goodell said here Monday that Payton has until Monday to appeal.
Payton said speculation that his former boss with the Dallas Cowboys, Bill Parcells, might serve as the interim head coach of the Saints is premature. Payton did not rule out Parcells as a candidate for that job but said Saints owner Tom Benson and General Manager Mickey Loomis must be involved in those deliberations.
“I think we’re a little ahead of ourselves just in regards to that,” Payton said. “Number one, I kind of speak with [Parcells] pretty regularly. I’ll have a chance to visit with him when I’m down here. But that would involve Mickey, myself, Mr. Benson. My conversations with Bill to date really have just been about the uniqueness with this situation.”
Payton said he still is seeking clarification about the terms of his suspension and about how much contact with players and other team officials he will be permitted to have.
Goodell suspended Loomis for eight games and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. The Saints were fined $500,000 and stripped of a pair of second-round draft choices. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, was suspended indefinitely. His case is to be reviewed after the 2012 season.
Disciplinary measures against the players most heavily involved in the bounty scheme are pending. An investigation by the league concluded that the bounty system, in which defensive players received cash payments for hits that injured opponents, was funded primarily by players.
A person who attended a meeting Tuesday with owners and coaches said Payton did not speak during the session, opting not to deliver an apology that some within the room seemed to expect. Benson had addressed fellow owners Monday.
But in his comments to media members earlier Tuesday, Payton did not raise objections to his penalties, saying he did not feel he and the Saints were punished unjustly for something that others within the sport say has taken place with other teams.
“I accept this,” Payton said. “I’ve heard that argument. I think trying to really look closely at how we and how I can improve is a probably a better way for me to handle this than to kind of vent and look outwardly at other programs. I think I’ve tried to take that approach.”