Posted January 23, 2013 on AP on Fox
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Sean Payton returned to work Wednesday following a nearly yearlong suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty program. The newly reinstated New Orleans Saints coach watched Senior Bowl practice and planned to meet later in the day with the staff to evaluate a defense that struggled during a 7-9 season and opened with four straight losses. Payton said there's plenty of work to do, from fixing the defense to replacing departed coaches and evaluating staff and players. Then, of course, getting ready for the draft and studying available free agents. Payton said during a 45-minute meeting with reporters that he and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell agreed not to discuss specifics about whether there was an organized bounty system or of their 4-1/2-hour meeting on Monday. ''We're at a point where it's time for closure. It's time for us as a team, it's time for us as a league, to take this next step forward,'' Payton said. Goodell lifted Payton's suspension Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected. The coach watched the Senior Bowl's North squad practice from the stands, chatting with assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis. The NFL suspended Payton, Vitt, Loomis and four current or former Saints players, including linebacker Jonathan Vilma, after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned. Payton said he wasn't involved in the appeals process. ''I followed the process but I wasn't really privy to how those appeals went, how the meetings went, the specifics, and I'm still not,'' he said. Payton said his situation was different because as head coach, ''it all falls under your umbrella.'' He said he wouldn't allow himself to get ''disappointed or upset, and I was just going to be patient to keep waiting and making sure I did everything the right way.'' He said the challenges of rebuilding after a losing season will be painful and that his return won't guarantee an immediate return to winning. Payton said the Saints' struggles defensively and running the ball early in the season, along with problems with special teams at times, made it tough to win - with or without the bounty scandal. Payton, citing advice from Bill Parcells, noted that his return won't mean an automatic return to big success. It was the Saints first losing season since 2007 ''Coach Parcells said to me that this mind-set that you're back and all of a sudden you're back to winning 11, 12, 13 games doesn't exist, because you very well could win five the next year,'' he said. ''He's right. We've got a lot of things we've got to correct to get to where we want to go. That's just the truth.'' He said he hadn't started talking to Loomis regarding any possible changes in the coaching staff. The defense allowed 7,042 yards, the most ever in a season, under first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo but also improved enough to later record the club's first shutout in 17 years.
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