PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In a matter of seconds on a football field, Saints coach Sean Payton can out-scheme, out-flank, out-maneuver and have his quarterback, Drew Brees, out-execute just about any defense in the NFL. Now, though, with his football life a few days away from 12-month exile, the play clock is working against him.
Payton can buy a little more time by appealing the year-long suspension that's set to begin April 1 for his role in the bounty scandal, but in the end, even he knows he's going to be out of coaching until 2013. He's "100 percent" certain that he will return -- and win -- but it's hard to look that far down the road when the reality of his misgivings are about to alter his world.
Payton stood unflinching for nearly 18 minutes in a hotel lobby where the NFL Annual Meeting is being held and took questions from reporters about his future, the Saints' future and what transpired to get him in this mess. As is always the case with Payton, he was poised and seemingly sincere.
It was a mea culpa of sorts, since it came after an investigation in which the NFL cited Payton for, among other things, telling staffers to "get your ducks in a row" when learning NFL security was investigating the team for having a bounty program to reward players for targeting opponents to be carted off the field and/or knocked out of games.
Remorse and contrition come after getting caught more times than not and Payton spent those 17 minutes and 39 seconds boasting a contrite temperament.
To some people around the league, Payton is reaping what he sowed. Not so much for the bounty program, which the NFL found he knew about to some degree, but for doing things his way too often for a lot of people's liking.
Even the dalliance with Bill Parcells to replace him as head coach for a year is being seen by some cynics as arrogant. The tempered buzz with regard to Payton and GM Mickey Loomis, who will be suspended for eight games, is why should they have the right to pick the next coach?
Get over it. Somebody has to make the decision about the replacement and that would be the case for anyone in this scenario (unless they worked for an owner/GM like Jerry Jones). The Saints, who are playoff-equipped because Payton and Loomis have built a deep and talented roster, could do a lot worse than Parcells.
To the larger point, the NFL clearly grew frustrated with Payton and so many others with the Saints, claiming the obstruction and lying in this investigation was constant and impeding. Those who don't think that added to the wrecking ball Commissioner Roger Goodell took to the organization and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams are kidding themselves.
Payton said he was forthright in answering questions during his two meetings with Goodell in New York. That might have come too late and didn't seem to do much to undo the damage; hence the unprecedented punishment.
For Payton, though, moving forward clearly is his only option because he doesn't have time to reflect. He has to figure out by the end of the week if he will appeal the suspension, which seems likely. Payton, Loomis and owner Tom Benson will gauge Parcells' interest -- and potential salary demands -- and will need an answer soon because a staff has to be formulated quickly with or without Parcells.
There's the draft. There's mapping out offseason workout schedules. There's also life without football.
As poised as Payton was speaking publicly for the first time since Goodell suspended him, when he mentioned being away from the game he's somehow been involved in for 39 consecutive years as a player and coach, reality seemed to set in and briefly clogged his mind. He quickly regrouped and said he looked forward to getting back in the game.
Still, the rush Payton is going through to get his own ducks in a row right now will be on pause for 12 months. Maybe taking that long breath will bring much clarity to a man who has endeared himself to a community while also alienating himself to many of his image painters in the media.
He's already covered everything he did wrong to lead to his suspension. He made that clear Tuesday when he said he spent too much time with the offense and not enough time overseeing what was happening with other aspects of his team. That was Payton further distancing himself from Williams, the central figure in the bounty scandal who has been suspended indefinitely.
Payton, the Saints and the NFL are in uncharted territory right now and this saga will continue to play out in stages. Payton will still be hailed as the man who brought the first Super Bowl to New Orleans and as one of the best offensive minds in all of football. But now he also is affiliated with a stigma that he's trying to shed.
Time does heal. And time actually might be exactly what Payton needs to get over this.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89