If the New Orleans Saints asked Bill Parcells to be interim head coach during Sean Payton's yearlong suspension, the 2011 Hall of Fame finalist says he would be a "hypocrite" if he didn't at least consider the possibility.
"If the opportunity presents itself, I'll think it over and clearly I'm in some phase of the process without knowing whether it's going to become a reality," Parcells told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen by phone on Wednesday. "Sean's become a dear, dear friend. I'm trying to be a friend.
"You know, when I was a young coach, there were people like Chuck Noll, Chuck Knox and Tom Landry who were there for me. I think to honor those guys who helped me, you turn around and pass that legacy on to somebody else and Sean's an example of that. If he needs me and the owner and GM feel the same way, then I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't consider it."
Payton, a former assistant under Parcells with the Dallas Cowboys, considers Parcells his mentor and the two have spoken several times since Payton learned last week the NFL intended to suspend him for all of the coming season -- starting this Sunday -- for his role in New Orleans' bounty program. Payton said most of those conversations concerned how Parcells might handle a similar situation, not whether he was interested in returning to the sideline in New Orleans.
General manager Mickey Loomis, who is suspended for the first eight games for his role in the program, joined those conversations Tuesday, golfing with Payton and Parcells at the league meetings in Jupiter, Fla.
"Sean is not the one doing the hiring. That's up to Mickey Loomis and [Saints owner] Tom Benson," Parcells told Mortensen. "I'm just getting to know Loomis, which is one reason we played golf yesterday. I mean, we've obviously had discussions about doing this but there are still too many hypotheticals to draw a conclusion right now."
Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said Wednesday no decisions had been made on an interim coach after Tuesday's meeting with Parcells, who will be 71 years old in August. Payton has made it clear he is hoping Parcells can help New Orleans move forward.
"There are a lot of variables, things you may call ancillary things," Parcells told Mortensen. "My heart can go one way but my mind also has to analyze all these ancillary things and determine if it's truly what's right for Sean, the Saints, what's right for those players and coaches and if I'm equipped to make it work. So we have some time here."
Payton has the option to appeal the suspension, which could buy him some time to settle on a 2012 replacement. A source in the league office told ESPN's Rachel Nichols that if Payton appeals, the hearing and ruling would come in "days, not weeks," and that any notion Payton could extend his working status through the draft in late April is inaccurate.
Should there be an appeal, the Saints would want to see whether it results in a reduced penalty before deciding whether to look within the organization for Payton's stand-in.
"It would just be considering all options, to be fair, and really trying to do our homework on each option before making a decision," Payton said Tuesday. "There's a lot of small steps here before we would get to that point of having to make a decision."
Parcells, who has
also coached the New York Jets, New York Giants and New England Patriots in addition to the Cowboys, could present an ideal quick fix for a franchise that has Super Bowl aspirations.
"I've had several people tell me 'You need to do this,' and I've had a few who have their doubts," Parcells told Mortensen. "Let's see what develops over the next couple of weeks. All I can tell you is this guy [Payton] is my friend and that means something to me. I want to be there for him but does that mean stepping in for him and coaching his team if I'm asked? I can't give a definitive answer on that right now because it's all hypothetical."
If Parcells does come out of retirement to coach New Orleans in Payton's absence, he would have to put any dreams of Canton on hold for five years. But the soon-to-be-71-year-old Parcells told Newsday that isn't a concern for him.
"That's not even a factor right now," he told the paper Wednesday, noting he has turned down two head-coaching opportunities since retiring as Cowboys coach in 2006. "I can't live my life worrying about something that might never happen. I have to be honest with myself. I don't know if that's going to happen or not. Why would you live your life worrying about something that's not going to happen? Don't assume that I don't think that's important to me because it is. But I'm not making any personal decision based on that."
As for the itch to return to a sport that he's spent his entire life involved with?
"That's been my life," Parcells told USA Today in a separate interview Wednesday. "I love the game. The NFL has been good to me. If you like competition, Sunday at one o'clock, it's there for you."
In New Orleans, Parcells would take the reins from a coach he hired as an offensive assistant in Dallas in 2003. Payton worked under Parcells for three seasons before getting his first shot as a head coach in 2006, when the Saints returned to the city after being displaced for months by Hurricane Katrina.
As for Loomis, he will be able to oversee the draft and work until the season starts. Then he is slated to serve his eight-game suspension for failing to put a stop to the bounty system in a timely way. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, is facing a six-game suspension. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (now with the Rams) was suspended indefinitely.
The NFL's investigation in New Orleans found Payton initially lied to league investigators about the existence of a bounty and instructed his defensive assistants to do the same. Payton twice apologized for his role in an enterprise that offered payouts for knocking out opponents, saying he takes "full responsibility" for a system that operated for three years under his watch.
As many as 27 players also could be sanctioned for their role in the scandal.
Goodell said the NFL is trying to "proceed as quickly as possible" in determining discipline for the players involved.
"I hold coaches and executives to a higher standard. ... It is clear from the information though that players enthusiastically embraced this and pushed this and that's troubling to me," Goodell said. "We'll have to look into who was involved, how much they were involved, what influence they had and I'll do my best to make a judgment on how that should be handled from a discipline standpoint."
In addition to the penalties for Payton, Loomis and Vitt, Goodell also fined the Saints $500,000 and took away second-round draft choices in 2012 and 2013.
The NFL deadline for the Saints (or any other team) to interview assistant coaches currently under contract in the league was March 1. This means the Saints would not be allowed to seek permission to interview a candidate from another team, even if it's for a head-coaching job, which could create a problem with Rooney Rule compliance.
Any minority candidate would have to come from the unemployment list, from within the Saints' staff or from the collegiate ranks.
Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols and The Associated Press contributed to this report.