On Sunday, Saints coach Sean Payton’s one-season suspension begins. On Monday, his period for appealing the suspension ends. According to the Associated Press, no decision has been made on whether Payton will appeal.
The fact that Payton’s suspension would be delayed until the expedited appeal is resolved makes it more likely that Payton will appeal, since he would be available to help prepare for the draft and to help select his replacement. And it could be that the Saints and Payton will leak or announce the decision to appeal the suspension late Friday afternoon, which will minimize the extent to which the talking heads who operate on a more traditional business-week cycle won’t be able to fully criticize Payton for not truly taking “full responsibility” for the bounty system. And then, by Monday, everyone will be talking about the aftermath of the NCAA semifinals and the looming title game, all of which coincidentally will be played in New Orleans.
Perhaps the decision on hiring an interim head coach hinges on the outcome of the appeal. If the NFL reduces Payton’s ban, there’s less of a need to bring Bill Parcells out of retirement. And maybe, to the extent that hiring Parcells feels like a loophole through which the Saints happily would sprint, Commissioner Roger Goodell would be willing to cut the suspension down to, say, 12 games in order to entice the Saints to go with an in-house interim hire and not make a potential mockery of the suspension by hiring Payton’s mentor to take his place.
Still looming is the broader question of whether the Saints, if Parcells is hired to take over, would be able or willing to comply with the Rooney Rule. In past situations where teams have made a mockery of the rule, those teams have been able to find a minority candidate with an eye on the bigger picture of his own career arc, going along with a possible sham interview now in order to get more experience interviewing for head-coaching jobs and/or to curry favor with the 32-branch conglomerate that eventually will have head-coaching vacancies that aren’t already earmarked for a non-minority coach.
In this situation, because the Saints would have to find a minority coach who isn’t currently employed by the Saints or any other NFL team, the universe of potential minority candidates would be very limited. Men like Dennis Green (who once participated in a Rooney Rule sham telephone interview before Jerry Jones hired Bill Parcells in Dallas), Herm Edwards, and Tony Dungy surely wouldn’t be interested in doing a favor for a franchise that brazenly ran a bounty system for three seasons. Also, no college coach in his right mind would want to give rival schools an opportunity for negative recruiting by flirting with the Saints during spring practice. Even brand-new Tulane coach and former Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson would surely be leery about engaging in what would be an obvious “thank you” to his former employer, even though folks in New Orleans (including people at Tulane) would appreciate Johnson’s wink-nod participation in the effort to clear a path for Parcells.
That leaves someone like Art Shell, who in the past has helped teams comply with the Rooney Rule by swooping in and sitting for a job. But even if he does it now, the cat is so far out of the bag regarding the team’s interest in Parcells that Shell or anyone else who agrees to be interviewed for the one-year-only job would be willingly walking into an obvious Rooney Rule sham session. As a result, any candidate who agrees to do it will confront a torrent of criticism far worse than what Payton will face when his acceptance of “full responsibility” becomes an appeal of the punishment levied against him.
UPDATE 10:35 a.m. ET: The league office says that the Saints may satisfy the Rooney Rule by interviewing a member of the current coaching staff. It’s logically inconsistent with the idea of the rule applying only if the team hires someone from outside the organization, but it makes it a lot easier for the Saints to comply.