The New Orleans Saints will replace suspended head coach Sean Payton with suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt.
The team, which has been rocked by the aftermath of a three-year bounty program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, has laid out the first of plans to guide the team through what will be a difficult 2012 season.
The Saints announced Vitt will assume the interim head coach role with Payton on his suspension. That will take place Monday when the club can open its voluntary offseason program. Payton is suspended now and Vitt will be suspended at the start of the regular season for the first six weeks.
“It is important that we keep Sean Payton’s philosophy front and center during this season. Sean has been the driving force behind the tremendous success our team has enjoyed during the past six years, his leadership will be missed,” general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement released by the club. “But we need to set a course of action that gives us the best chance to win this season without our head coach, and that is why I am announcing today that Joe Vitt will assume Sean’s duties. We considered a number of great options to handle Payton's duties both internally and externally, but believe this will provide the most seamless transition for our players and our coaching staff, allowing our offensive and defensive staffs to remain intact with the fewest changes. This is the same structure we used last season during Sean's knee injury.”
The Saints talked to retired coach Bill Parcells about possibly stepping in to handle Payton’s role but ultimately he didn’t desire the job. What isn’t addressed is who will lead the team when Vitt is suspended. Loomis suggested that plan has not been finalized at this point.
“We will work through the offseason under this plan and when we get to training camp we will decide on a course of action for the first six weeks of the season, while Joe Vitt is unavailable,” Loomis said. “We are fortunate to have a great veteran coaching staff well equipped to handle this challenge. Joe and Sean have worked closely together to build our program, one of the most successful in the NFL in the past six years, and I have the fullest confidence that Joe will continue that success that Sean has brought us.”
Owner Tom Benson also weighed in on the messy situation.
“This is about our program, and the continued success of our program,” Benson said. “Joe has been part of building our success along with our Head Coach Sean Payton and our General Manager Mickey Loomis. We are looking forward to the start of the offseason program, the NFL Draft, our minicamps and training camp. We are looking forward to the start of our season, as I know that all of our fans are and we are looking forward to competing and winning a championship right here in our own city, in our own stadium this year.”
Loomis also has a suspension to serve. He will be out at the start of the regular season for the first eight weeks.
Payton, Vitt, Loomis and the Saints all had their appeals to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell denied earlier this week.
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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune