METAIRIE — New Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said Thursday that witnesses in the NFL’s bounty investigation of the team lied about him and the organization and that their stories might change in federal court.
Alluding to a defamation lawsuit filed by Saints linebacker Jon Vilma against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Vitt angrily said he feels the truth about the pay-for-pain system will come out before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who is presiding over the pending case in New Orleans.
“If anybody’s keeping a scorecard here, let’s take a look at this,” Vitt said.
He referred to his first meeting with reporters after the NFL released its bounty probe findings in March, in which he said, “At no point in time did our players ever cross the white line with the intention of injuring, maiming or ending the career of another player. That never took place.”
Then, recounting his witness appearance in Vilma’s case last summer, he added, “I’ve testified before a federal judge with my hand on the Bible.”
“What’s going to happen now is all participants, all these accusations, are going to go to federal court,” Vitt continued. “They’re going to go to a judge and, from top to bottom, she’s going to hear testimony, and the penalty for perjury with her is going to be jail time.”
Vitt’s comments came a day after The Associated Press reported that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams testified in recent NFL appeal hearings that he tried to stop the bounty program, only to be overruled by Vitt. The AP obtained transcripts from the closed-door hearings, which were held for Vilma and three other players who had been punished in the bounty probe.
The transcripts show Vitt later denied Williams’ allegation and offered to take a lie detector test, adding, “There’s a lot of lying going on right now.” Vitt called Williams a liar repeatedly during his appeal hearing testimony, even saying Williams “has lost his mind in some situations.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been defending the integrity of his coaches, saying Wednesday it was hard to believe the NFL based its case on the testimony of Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, “two disgruntled employees that were fired here because they did not fit the mold of what we are about.”
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was appointed by Goodell to handle the players’ appeals and on Tuesday overturned their suspensions. However, he affirmed many of the findings of the bounty probe and found that three players, with the exception of former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, committed “conduct detrimental” to the league.
Vitt, an assistant, has been the Saints’ interim head coach this season except for the six games when he was suspended. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended the entire season, and general manager Mickey Loomis was banned eight games.
The players had fought their bounty punishment with the help of their union, through the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and in federal court.
“Myself, Sean and Mickey didn’t have that right,” Vitt said, referring to their lack of union representation. “I’ve already served my time. Mickey has already served his time. And to be quite frank with you, I don’t know what door to knock on Park Avenue (where NFL headquarters are located) to get my reputation back. But again, I’m going to defend our players, I’m going to defend this organization and I’m going to defend our ownership.”
Vitt declined to say Thursday whether he expects to bring legal action of his own, though he had testified before Tagliabue that he will sue Cerullo.
Although Vilma’s case is pending, the judge denied the linebacker’s request this week to begin the discovery process, which includes the gathering of evidence and deposing of witnesses, and she is still considering an NFL motion to dismiss the case.
When asked whether he could take action against Goodell or the league, Vitt said, “There’s nothing. It’s history.” But then he added, “We’ll all be before the federal judge. And the one great thing about this country — the truth is going to prevail.”