AVONDALE, La. — Sean Payton played a round of golf with tour pro Ryan Palmer, posed for photos with his ever-supportive fans and then spoke about his eagerness to get back to coaching football as early as this fall.
No, not pro football. Payton said he’s staying in constant contact with NFL officials to ensure he doesn’t run afoul of the rules of his season-long suspension in connection with the league’s bounty investigation of the Saints.
However, Payton’s son, Connor, who will soon turn 12, will be playing football in suburban Dallas in the fall. Whether the younger Payton’s team runs the double-reverse known as the Superdome Special remains to be seen, but his father plans to be on the sideline and very involved.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to doing this fall is helping coach my son’s football team and doing a few things that you normally wouldn’t be able to do” while coaching in the NFL, Payton said Wednesday after playing in the Zurich Classic pro-am.
“I look forward to cutting the oranges, hauling the Gatorade 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.”
While Payton seems to be coming to grips with his suspension, and appeared gratified support at the course from fans — some of whom wore “Free Payton” T-shirts — he was annoyed by recently reported wiretapping allegations against the Saints.
“It’s hogwash,” Payton said about the allegations that general manager Mickey Loomis’ Superdome booth was wired so he could eavesdrop on opposing coaches.
The allegations, made public in an ESPN report Monday, have spawned a joint Louisiana state police and FBI probe. The alleged activity covers a period between 2002 and 2004, before Payton took his first head coaching job in New Orleans in 2006.
“It’s garbage,” Payton continued. “Obviously, I wasn’t here, but I know Mickey Loomis well enough and I would consider him a close friend and professionally one of the best general managers in sport. … If you really study what he does in the booth, he listens closely to the broadcast, watches the games and for him to begin to try to dissect that language and everything — just the way it was reported was awful, I’ll say that.”
Payton’s suspension began April 16 and runs through the Super Bowl, which, incidentally, is in New Orleans. During that time, Payton may not even have casual, non-football conversations with anyone on any NFL team without at least notifying the league office.
The pro-am was one such event where Payton had to be careful because Saints running back Mark Ingram attended the event and hit some balls on the driving range. If Payton finds such extensive restrictions upsetting in any way, he did not let on about that after his round of golf.
“It’s unimportant how I feel. Really it’s just the terms of the suspension and it’ll be easy to follow and pay attention to,” Payton said. “I told (NFL executive) Ray (Anderson) when we first began talking that we’ll talk frequently.”
Payton said he phoned Anderson after recently running into linebacker Akin Ayodele at a restaurant and also called about whether he could play in the Saints Hall of Fame golf outing in May. He was given the OK to take part in that as well.
Payton said he’ll watch the NFL draft closely, albeit on TV, likely while sitting at home like a fan. He said there were no “24-hour meetings” in his final days of work and that he simply reminded his experienced staff to do their jobs as they have during the past few seasons, which had included three straight playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title.
“This team is weatherproof,” Payton said in an apparent allusion to the uplifting role the club played in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. “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.”
Payton was gracious whenever he was approached by fans and signed autographs, including one on a woman’s “Free Payton” shirt.
“It’s humbling. It’s overwhelming,” Payton said. “We’ve got the greatest fans in sport. … There’s that bond that’s been uniquely formed. It certainly started long before we ever arrived, but it’s gotten stronger since Katrina and the Super Bowl and so there’s a close relationship.”
Payton said he suspects there will be moments this fall when he’s watching the Saints and struggles with the fact that he cannot be with the club, but said those feelings won’t overwhelm him because of the enjoyment he’ll get from being with Connor and teenage daughter Meghan.
“Often times with what we do, the time we get to spend with our children is limited,” Payton said. “So I’m looking forward to taking advantage of that.”