And now, with his season-long suspension set to begin Sunday, he is checking to see if mentor Bill Parcells would run the team while he serves his penalty for allowing a Saints assistant coach and players to operate a crunch-for-cash bounty system.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the Saints were sanctioned for targeting specific opponents, Payton said Tuesday he will soon decide whether to appeal his suspension, something Commissioner Roger Goodell said he would allow.
Payton also said he was meeting with Parcells, who lives near Palm Beach, site of the NFL meetings, to discuss the plan for the season.
"For me to be down here, if I didn't call him or try to set up a time to see him, I'd probably get his wrath," Payton said.
Payton said he, general manager Mickey Loomis - who is facing an eight-game suspension - and team owner Tom Benson are weighing a number of scenarios. Among them: Does Parcells want to coach?
If he appeals, and he has until Monday, Goodell said he would "probably" allow him to continue working past the intended start of his suspension. Goodell also said he would expedite the appeal process and his decision, meaning Payton might only get a few more days of work before having to step aside.
The NFL's investigation in New Orleans found that 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 could also be sanctioned for their role in the scandal.
"As the head coach, anything that happens in the framework of your team and your program, you're responsible for," Payton said. "And that's a lesson I've learned. And it's one that it's easy to get carried away, in regards to a certain side of the ball or more involved offensively or defensively. And that's something that I regret."
Payton said he was confident he will coach the Saints again in 2013, and that his biggest challenge was realizing that for the first time in 39 years, he may not have an active role in football as a player or coach.
"You go through a range of emotions that kind of hit you," Payton said. "You're disappointed. You're disappointed in yourself that it got to this point. I think we're trained as coaches to begin preparation right away. I find myself reflecting on it, and you go through a lot of emotions."
Asked if he might work in broadcasting this season, Payton said anyone in his position would keep their options open. He said he hasn't been in touch with Gregg Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator who ran the bounty system and was suspended indefinitely. Asked if bounties were what he envisioned when he asked Williams to build a defense, he replied, "No, obviously not."
"He's a great teacher," Payton said. "Certainly I'm biased, having worked with him. But he's a Hall of Fame head coach. And I would also say there's some things probably set up in the framework of our program that would be exactly how he would have set those things up had he been the head coach here in `06. So there's some carry-over that way."
If Parcells returned to the sideline, he may have to wait another five years before becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame again. Parcells, who turns 71 in August, may not want to wait that long. Asked by Sports Illustrated on Monday if he had a desire to coach another team, Parcells said, "I don't think so."
Arthur Blank, owner of NFC South rival Atlanta, praised Goodell's strong punishment.
"I think he dealt with it appropriately," Blank told ESPN.com. "I think it will be one of the most significant decisions he'll ever make as the commissioner. I think he'll be the commissioner for the next 30 years and I think people will look back and say he sent a message to the teams, the players, the coaches, everybody in the NFL and sent a message to the fans that, `This is not what we're going to have in this league.' "
Payton said he didn't want the scandal to "taint or tarnish" his team's recent success.
"We'll get through this," he said. "This will be a challenge. ... You know, we've gone through a lot of adversity and we've won a lot of games in really a short window of time. And I know our players are leaders both within the locker room and the coaching staff will look at this as a challenge and a little bit as an opportunity."
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in Palm Beach and AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this story.
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