Saints coach Sean Payton has been reinstated by the league, ending a suspension that kept him away from all things NFL for more than nine months.
The reinstatement is effective immediately.
“As I stated back in March, ‘I, along with Mickey Loomis, take full responsibility for all aspects of our football program,’ ” Payton said in a statement Tuesday. “I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations. Furthermore, I have assured the Commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed. Lastly, I feel we have learned from our mistakes and are ready to move forward. I want to thank our owner, Mr. Benson and all of our great fans for the overwhelming support throughout this past year.”
Payton was suspended for the 2012 offseason as well as the regular season after allowing what the NFL called was a pay-for-injury bounty system to fester for three years under the direction of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was suspended from the league indefinitely.
Four players – Saints defenders Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith along with former New Orleans players Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove – were tied up in the suspensions, each missing a varying amount of games. Vilma was doled out a season-long suspension. But none served theirs as an appeals panel, and then former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, vacated the suspensions and fines.
Meanwhile, Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt also were suspended, the Saints’ general manager out for eight games with the coach getting a six-game suspension.
The wheels for reinstatement rolled into full motion after the weekend, nearly two weeks before Payton was expected to be welcomed back into the NFL after the Super Bowl.
Payton met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York on Monday, acknowledging his responsibility to help the players and coaches “uphold the highest standards of the NFL,” the NFL said in its release.
“Sean fully complied with all the requirements imposed on him during his suspension,” Goodell said. “More important, it is clear that Sean understands and accepts his responsibilities as a head coach and the vital role that coaches play in promoting player safety and setting an example for how the game should be played at all levels.”
Payton agreed to a new contract with the Saints on Dec. 29, extending his current one five years.
Vitt spoke with Payton early Tuesday morning and expected the head coach in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl by Wednesday to begin evaluating prospects for April’s NFL draft. More than that, though, Payton will get to spend time with friends he hasn’t been able to communicate with for nearly a year.
“‘That really comes first,” Vitt said while watching Senior Bowl practice Tuesday. “The personal loss that Mickey I both. We haven’t had Sean around here for almost a year now. We’re getting a friend back.
Added Loomis, “We all miss his friendship. We miss him as a person. I’m excited that he’s going to be back here and fired up that he’s back here.”
Reaction to Payton’s reinstatement wasn’t limited to the coaching staff, however.
Receiver Lance Moore tweeted, “Welcome back Coach Payton!!!!” Running back Pierre Thomas added, “Heard the good news….welcome back Coach Payton!! 2013 let’s get it!! Who Dat!!”