Mary Altaffer, File, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Sean Payton now knows for certain he won't be coaching in 2012.
And the New Orleans Saints must figure out whether Bill Parcells or someone else is best suited to take over a team seeking its fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday rejected the Saints' appeals of their unprecedented punishment stemming from the league's investigation of the club's bounty system. The program offered cash bonuses for big hits that knocked targeted opponents out of games or hurt them enough that they required help getting to the sideline.
In addition to upholding Payton's suspension, which begins next Monday and runs through the Super Bowl — in New Orleans next season — Goodell also upheld suspensions of eight games for general manager Mickey Loomis and six games for assistant head coach Joe Vitt, along with a $500,000 fine for the franchise and the loss of second-round draft picks this year and next.
Loomis, who declined comment Monday, and Vitt begin their suspensions after the preseason ends.
The Saints case represents perhaps the starkest example yet of the sea change that the NFL has undergone since medical research and media reports on the long-term damage suffered by football players through concussions began to gain attention a few years ago.
While former players say off-the-books incentives have been around for years, and current players say the tough talk about getting after specific opponents happens in locker rooms throughout the NFL, Goodell responded to the Saints case by handing out stern penalties.
Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left the Saints after last season to join the St. Louis Rams, ran the bounty program and has been suspended indefinitely. He did not appeal.
Goodell said in a statement if Payton, Loomis and Vitt "embrace the opportunity and participate in a constructive way," he would consider reducing the financial penalties on them. While none of them has been fined, each will lose significant amounts while not being paid their salaries during the suspensions.
Goodell also "would consider whether there are factors that would support modifying the forfeiture of the team's 2013 second-round draft choice."
The commissioner's latest decision could open the way for the Saints to coax Parcells — Payton's mentor since their days together in Dallas — out of retirement.
Parcells, a Hall of Fame finalist who turns 71 in August, has said he would consider coaching the Saints if asked to help his former protege. Payton and Loomis played golf with the former NFL coach during NFL meetings in south Florida last month to talk to him about the team's predicament.
Payton's suspension was supposed to begin April 1, but he was allowed to continue working while his appeal was pending, delaying plans to select an interim coach.
If the Saints decide to hire an interim coach from outside the organization, as would be the case with Parcells, the club also would have to interview a minority candidate to comply with the NFL's "Rooney Rule."
Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and took the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, has not coached since retiring from the Cowboys after the 2006 season, though he then worked in Miami's front office.
The Saints also could decide to promote from within the current staff.
There are three strong candidates among Saints assistants to take over as interim coach: offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Payton expressed confidence in the abilities of his assistants to compensate for his absence, but also has voiced some misgivings about saddling those coaches with additional responsibilities.
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