MOBILE, Ala . — Unlike 95 percent of his compatriots at Ladd-Peebles Stadium Wednesday, Sean Payton wasn’t sporting any team gear. Maybe that was the last part of his punishment. No fleur-de-lis until after the Super Bowl.
But Payton didn’t need that to demonstrate he was a man who was happy to be back.
“You miss the competition, that element of what it feels like when you’re winning, when you have success, the butterflies on Sunday mornings,” Payton said. “But the interaction with the people that you’re closest to is what I missed most.
“In other words, it wasn’t just being away from football.”
Indeed, there’s a band-of-brothers mindset about coaching a football team, especially in the all-in world of the NFL, where even road trips to places like the Senior Bowl are spent together.
Payton was properly contrite Wednesday, although he never said the word “sorry.” Nor he did not detail what part he played in the pay-for-performance system, which, in some minds, morphed into a bounty-for-injury system.
In truth, the money was never the incentive. And if the intent really was to see Brett Favre carted off, then there’s a dark side of football we don’t want to think about.
But in the image-conscious world of the NFL, it was the wrong crime at the wrong time, player safety becoming a big issue in a violent sport.
And because it happened on Payton’s watch, and General Manager Mickey Loomis didn’t stop it after being told to, they paid a steeper price than if they’d handled it properly.
So NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had reason to bring the hammer down.
“He came down hard because the guys at the top knew about it and didn’t do anything about it,” Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie said. “He was making a statement about the way you’re supposed to handle things, and he did so by taking away some of their livelihood.”
Of course, in Payton’s case, the raise he got from being able to renegotiate his contract upward lets him make up whatever he lost in 2012 in three or four years.
So what was the cost?
For the Saints, while the absence of one man is hard to quantify, there was a substitute teacher quality about having two interim coaches.
Certainly Drew Brees missed having his quarterback whisperer in his ear and seemingly no consensus about the running game.
The defense was a disaster. Payton’s expertise is on the offensive side, but rest assured there were plenty of notes about the defense in the multiple legal pads Payton kept during the season.
“There’s a lot we have to do,” Payton said.
At least he’s getting a two-week head start, thanks to Goodell’s pre-Super Bowl reprieve. You can judge that however you wish.
Payton also talked about closure Wednesday. Saints fans do need to move on.
But that won’t change the team’s 7-9 record, which, per the NFL, will be credited to Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt instead of Payton.
It should go to Payton, though. No matter how you look at it, he deserves it.