AVONDALE — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, suspended for the 2012 season for misleading NFL security looking into a bounty program the league said the team ran from 2009-11, said Wednesday he looks forward to doing the things he normally can’t do during his time away from the game.
Payton spoke with reporters Wednesday for the first time since his appeal of his season-long suspension was upheld by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on April 12.
After playing in the Zurich Classic Pro-Am at TPC Louisiana for the second year in a row, Payton, whose ban began April 16, said he will spend more time with his children — Meghan (14) and Connor (12) — and coach Connor’s football team.
Payton said the first week of his suspension was challenging, but then he said he began to move forward.
“There’s a lot of things I’m looking forward to doing,” he said. “A lot of that starts with your own children and the time that you normally don’t have. I’ll have a lot more of it.”
When asked about those challenges, one of which is being unable to have contact with anyone who works with any NFL team. assistant head coach Joe Vitt said Tuesday he hadn’t talked to Payton in a week and a half, the longest he hasn’t talked to his close friend in 10 years.
“There’s the professional side of the penalty that’s difficult,” Payton said. “But from a personal standpoint, the friendships you have with your co-workers and your players, I think that’s the bigger adjustment than the professional penalty.”
Like Vitt a day earlier, Payton slammed an ESPN report saying General Manager Mickey Loomis used a listening device to eavesdrop on opposing coaches from his Mercedes-Benz Superdome suite from 2002-04.
“I think it’s hogwash,” Payton said.
Because he had to break ties with the Saints, Payton said he is back at his Dallas home and spending more time than usual with his kids at this time of the year — considering he’d normally be preparing for the draft.
“It’s putting together a list of things you want to get accomplished,” he said. “Still paying attention to the game, but at the same time really trying to dive into two young children that are growing up quickly.”
Payton reiterated what Vitt said Tuesday, that the Saints, who last week began their offseason program, will continue to operate as usual — a theme of their final staff meetings.
“I think the big message — Joe alluded to it yesterday — is if everyone just works on doing their job we’ll be just fine,” Payton said. “To repeat what he really said yesterday, this team is weatherproof.
“It was built with the right type of players and right type of coaching staff, from the front office and ownership on down to handle the challenges ahead. We’ve handled them before. We’ll handle this one.”
While he can’t talk to anyone associated with the NFL, Payton was free to visit with fans in the small gallery that followed PGA Tour pro Ryan Palmer and amateur partners Rick Farrell and Desi Vega.
At least a couple of spectators wore black T-shirts that read: “FREE Payton” and he posed for a photo with them. Beneath the gold words was the shape of the iconic NFL shield with a caricature of Payton behind bars.
Payton said the support of the fans has been “humbling and overwhelming.”
However, he could not talk to running back Mark Ingram, who was hitting balls on the driving range Wednesday morning.
“I would draw an analogy a little bit to the (owners) lockout, if we were trying to find something close to it,” Payton said. “We went through that a year ago, and what we could and couldn’t do. You just handle it that way.”
Payton did say he checked with the league office and will be allowed to participate in the Saints Hall of Fame golf outing on May 21 in Kenner.
Payton said he plans to follow the three-day draft, which begins Thursday night, from a couch or chair at home.
That’s where he’ll be this fall, unless he takes a job with one of the networks, when he’s not coaching his son’s team.
“I think there will be those (difficult) moments, no different than that Monday or Tuesday when the suspension started,” he said.
“Yet, I look forward to cutting the oranges, hauling the (sports drinks) and watching my son play every game — and being a part of calling plays for his offense. And doing some things like that that really get me excited, and I know get him excited.”
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