NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints owner Tom Benson left the NFL meetings Wednesday and headed back to New Orleans, where his team's top brass had major matters to discuss during what could be Sean Payton's last week of work in 2012.
Team spokesman Greg Bensel said no decisions had been made on an interim coach after a meeting Tuesday with Bill Parcells. Payton has made it clear he is hoping Parcells can help New Orleans move forward whether he wants to get back into coaching or not.
Payton considers Parcells his mentor, and has spoken with him several times since learning last week that the NFL intended to suspend him for all of the coming season — starting this Sunday —for his role in New Orleans' bounty program. Payton said most of those conversations concerned how Parcells might handle a similar situation, not whether he was interested in returning to the sideline in the Big Easy.
Yet when asked why Parcells, a finalist for the Hall of Fame this season who turns 71 in August, would make a good fit as interim coach, Payton had some definite ideas.
"He's a great teacher," Payton said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting in Palm Beach. "Certainly I'm biased, having worked with him. But he's a Hall of Fame head coach. And I would also say there's some things probably set up in the framework of our program that would be exactly how he would have set those things up had he been the head coach (in New Orleans) in '06. So there's some carry-over that way."
The Saints' bounty system overshadowed much of the business discussed at the NFL owner's meetings.
"It's definitely necessary to mention it," said Ron Rivera, whose Carolina Panthers play the Saints twice a year in the NFC South. "The precedent has been set by the commissioner and they need to understand that and it is not to be broached again. Going forward, we won't have to go over these things again."
The Saints are still trying to figure out to regroup from the fallout.
It could be a few days before Saints, who are looking to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season, decide on an interim coach.
Payton said he has not decided whether to appeal and has until Monday to so, a move that could give him a little more time at work. However, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he would expedite such an appeal, meaning Payton's suspension might not be delayed for long.
Should there be an appeal, the Saints would want to see whether it results in a reduced penalty before deciding whether to look within or outside of the organization for Payton's stand-in.
"It would just be considering all options, to be fair and really trying to do our homework on each option before making a decision," Payton said. "There's a lot of small steps here before we would get to that point of having to make a decision."
If Parcells does decide to come to New Orleans, he would take the reins from a coach he hired as an offensive assistant in Dallas back in 2003. Payton worked under Parcells for three seasons before getting his first shot as a head coach in 2006, when the Saints returned to the city after being displaced for months by Hurricane Katrina.
There are also three strong candidates among Saints assistants to take over as interim coach: offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Payton expressed confidence in the abilities of his own assistants to compensate for his absence, but also voiced some misgivings about saddling those coaches with additional responsibilities.
"We feel like we've got a number of good candidates" on the staff, Payton said. "The trick then is what it does to affect their roles that they currently have."
Payton spent only Tuesday at the NFL meetings and planned to be back at work in New Orleans on Wednesday, trying to tie up as many loose ends as he could in the next few days.
"I've got a lot of to-do things right now specific to football," Payton said. "The offseason calendar, all of that has been laid out already. Everything has been basically planned all the way up to the Hall of Fame game. ... Between now and then, there's a lot of little things that I'll try to make sure we get covered and handed over to our coaches so that they have a pretty good understanding as to what I'm looking for."
General manager Mickey Loomis will be able to oversee the draft and work up until the season starts. Then he is slated to serve his eight-game suspension for failing to put a stop to the bounty system in a timely way. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, is facing a six-game suspension.
The NFL's investigation in New Orleans found that Payton initially lied to league investigators about the existence of a bounty and instructed his defensive assistants to do the same. Payton twice apologized for his role in an enterprise that offered payouts for knocking out opponents, saying he takes "full responsibility" for a system that operated for three years under his watch.
As many as 27 players also could be sanctioned for their role in the scandal.
Payton said he didn't want the scandal to "taint or tarnish" his team's recent success.
"We'll get through this," he said. "This will be a challenge. ... You know, we've gone through a lot of adversity and we've won a lot of games in really a short window of time. And I know our players are leaders both within the locker room and the coaching staff will look at this as a challenge and a little bit as an opportunity."
In addition to the penalties for Payton, Loomis and Vitt, Goodell also fined the Saints $500,000 and took away second-round draft choices in 2012 and 2013.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this story from Palm Beach, Fla.