Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who'll be acting head coach during Sean Payton's suspension, answered questions from the media Tuesday.
“I want to share with you some of the things I shared with (Commissioner Roger Goodell) over my visits with him. I’m going to make these comments and then I’d like to move on if I could. Number one, at no time did any of our players ever cross the white line with the intention of hurting another player. Now that being said, I’m serving a six-game suspension for the spoken word, not the clinched fist. I’m on board with the Commissioner 100% on player safety. I think everybody knows here that Steve Gleason is a big part of our family here and we’re seeing what he’s going through now. When I was with the Philadelphia Eagles, we had a fullback by the name of Kevin Turner who is suffering from ALS right now. It’s devastating. I lost two players a year ago at an early age, Lewis Bush and Chester McGlockton, that I coached. I share passionately player safety and making this a better league with player safety. I want you all to know that. I share the Commissioner’s passion with that and I’m on board 100%. I have not talked to (Head Coach) Sean (Payton) in a week and a half. It’s been tough. It’s the longest I’ve gone without talking to Sean in ten years. Sean’s my friend, Sean’s our leader here and I can’t take Sean’s place. The only thing that I can do is implement the program that he’s established along with Mickey (Loomis) here. We all know what we have to do. There’s not a player, an administrator or anybody in this building that doesn’t talk about Sean or ask about Sean on a daily basis, but I can’t answer questions about him because I haven’t talked to him. We will live by the law of the Commissioner. I came here on February 7, 2006 right after Hurricane Katrina, and I saw the devastation of this region. I know what this football team means to our fans. Our coaches are working tirelessly on scheme evaluations. Our coaches are working tirelessly on the upcoming draft to get the boards stacked. The boat has left the dock on Monday (April 16th). (That’s when) we started our offseason conditioning program. Our players are in here for about four hours a day. We started to integrate some of our defensive players into our new scheme. Our players know, our coaches know, and our building knows that we are going to be held accountable for 16 games next year and you will get our best. The last thing that Sean said to everyone in this building was, ‘Do your job.’ Everyone in this organization will do their job. This is a roster made up of character players that are accountable to one another. We won 41 games in the last three years and we’re proud of that. We’ve been able to attract some unbelievable players here after this scandal has hit – Curtis Lofton from the Atlanta Falcons, David Hawthorne from the Seattle Seahawks, Ben Grubbs from the Baltimore Ravens and Brodrick Bunkley from the Denver Broncos – these guys have come here because of the organization that Mr. Benson has built. This organization has been built on trust and accountability. We’re going to move forward. We have to move forward. It is what it is right now and there’s nothing we can do about it, but this football team and this organization is committed to being the best that we can be and become what we can be.”
Can you clarify what you meant when you said you were suspended for your spoken word and not your clinched fist?
“We never taught any of our players that when they crossed the white line to injure another player. I regret the words that were spoken at meetings. Again, I want to say this one last time and (the) players in our league already know this, what you do on the field speaks so well that there is no need to hear what you have to say. The body of work that our players have on the field has spoken well. I don’t think that you acquire the players that we have and the coaches that have come here unless you’re a first-class organization. That’s what we have here.”
What’s the staff going to decide when you have to go away?
“We’ve been fortunate here. We’ve had two types of teams – we’ve had good teams and we’ve had great teams. I think as all you guys know who have covered the team here, every season no matter what roster you have, (it) takes on a life of its own. Mickey and Mr. Benson will make that decision, whoever is going to coach this football team when I leave, is going to be whoever’s going to best serve our team. We’ve started from day one, last Monday, starting all over again. This football team that we have now is going to have a new personality and keep our core beliefs intact. Whoever is going to best serve those needs is going to be who gets the job. Mickey and Mr. Benson will make that decision.”
How difficult has it been preparing for this draft not knowing what players will be suspended?
“You’re dealing with hypotheticals. We’re dealing with it as if we have everybody. We can’t do it any other way. Our work ethic has been the same, our preparation has been the same and we know the kind of players we want to bring in here.”
How important do you think it is to have you step into the interim head coach position to keep the continuity in place?
“I’ve done this once before with the (St. Louis) Rams. When I did it the first time with the Rams, I was only there for two years. I’ll be in my seventh year here so I was one of the original guys that came in and I don’t think there’s anybody except Mickey that’s met with Sean more than Sean than I have that knows Sean’s core beliefs more than I do and that have been around the players more than I have. But understand this, I’m not taking Sean’s place. I’m the substitute teacher here and I’m not going to try to take his place. Our program and our beliefs will stay in place. Our calendar is made out all the way up until the coaches’ vacation. You can ask a coach on a particular date and a particular time what he’s going to be doing and it’s all mapped out. Like I said, I’m just here to service our team and our organization.”
How much would it help the Saints during this difficult time if Drew Brees was under contract?
“That’s a hypothetical question. Drew has earned the right to negotiate this contract and he’s negotiating the contract with one of the best guys in the National Football League in Mickey Loomis. Mickey has to have the vision to protect our football down the road money-wise. This is going to get worked out. These are two highly competent people that have great respect for one another that have one common goal. This will get worked out. All that we can do is coach the guys that are here.”
Is there going to be any difference in the way that you guys approach the draft?
“No. Our draft board is set. Our core beliefs are set. The kinds of guys we want are set. Nothing changes. The program is set. When we go through this exercise, everyone has a chance to have their say. Most of the time, 99 percent of the time there is a common belief on which way we want to go. Mickey will absolutely serve as that tiebreaker.”
What do you see your toughest job as?
“This is all I’ve ever done. I get to coach this football team and I get to come to work here every day. I think it’s important that we keep this in perspective. My father worked for 35 years at an oil company as a laborer. I get a chance to come to work every day around great people, skilled people and world-class athletes. The toughest part of the job is not letting people down around you and make sure that we motivate, inspire and teach our players and make sure we keep that to a high caliber and high standard that we’ve always had. Preparation has always been key for us. We’ll continue to do that.”
Do you see this as an opportunity to make your team more unified?
“All we’re trying to do around here is win the day. Then we’re going to put a couple of days together, and then put a couple of weeks together, then you go to OTA’s, then you go to mini-camp and then you go to training camp. All we’re trying to do is win the day.”
How difficult do you think it will be to manage being the interim head coach and also the linebackers coach with all the new linebackers you’ve acquired this offseason?
“Again, I’ve done that responsibility before. This program is set. What we do and how we do it is set. I got into this business because I love coaching. The linebackers are the first responsibility that I have. I’ve done it before. I don’t think that’s going to make it any easier, but I have a responsibility to those linebackers and I want to fulfill it.”
Were you surprised they named you to be the interim head coach considering you have a suspension too?
“No. I don’t know that we’ve ever said that I’m the interim head coach around here. I’m the assistant head coach. Sean’s not here right now. I’m taking Sean’s place while he’s not here. When Sean broke his leg last year for a game, everyone got in line and did their job. I don’t know how else to answer that.”
Can you comment on the report that came out about Mickey Loomis yesterday?
“I really can’t because I wasn’t here when that all took place. One of the reasons I came here is so I can be with Mickey Loomis. We were brought up together in this same business under Chuck Knox in Seattle. I’ve been with Mickey now for 17 years. I understand what Mickey’s core beliefs are. Again, that’s one of the reasons I came here. I think we’ve been to the playoffs eight times together. Anybody that ever wants to question Mickey’s integrity on something like this, I mean this is juvenile. This is so bad with what’s being reported. It’s irresponsible. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings here, but I don’t have the time to read and see the reports. We’re working 12 to 14 hours a day here, so I’m not completely abreast in what’s taking place or what’s been said. I just know it’s not true. I know what Mickey’s meant in my life and what he’s meant to a lot of people in this league. You can’t get anybody to find a fault with Mickey Loomis.”
How hard would it be to transfer any obtained information?
“It’s ludacris. It’s impossible. I’ve never heard of it before. That’s something from Star Wars. When I first hear about something being wire-tapped, I didn’t even know what they were talking about. And then to associate Mickey with that, it’s irresponsible and it’s a shame.”
Do you think the Saints can be characterized as a vulnerable franchise right now?
“Understand one thing, we are not down. We have 41 wins over the last three years and we have a great building full of players, we have a great scouting staff, we have a great administration, we have a great owner and we are looking forward to the start of the season. Again, the excuses are out there for us not to perform, but we are all held accountable for our jobs and that’s the truth. We will be held accountable. To answer your question, I don’t feel like we’re down.”
How much more difficult do you think it will be to achieve the level of success that you have in the past this year based on what has happened this offseason?
“That’s the only goal and there are no excuses. Anything that happens outside this building can never be an excuse for what’s taking place inside the building. Our players are working hard. We had a great first week (of the offseason strength and conditioning program) with 100 percent participation except for (wide receiver) Marques Colston, who has been excused. Our players are focused, our coaches our focused, our owner is focused (and) our building is focused. We owe it to our fans. Our fans have always been there for us. We want the people of New Orleans, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region to be proud of us. We’re going to give them our best.”
Can you discuss Colston’s absence?
“He’s getting a degree.”
What can we expect from the defense this year with some of the personnel additions? Could it potentially be better than last year’s unit?
“Absolutely with the additions that we have. With the addition of Steve Spagnuolo, some of the pressure defenses he ran in New York, Philadelphia and then with the Rams and getting the personnel we did in the offseason, we’re really looking forward to it.”
What will you miss from Sean Payton the most?
“We’re going to miss his passion, his vision, his play-calling, his understanding. Sean’s like a father figure to a lot of guys on this football team. You don’t replace that, either. Sean Payton’s record speaks for itself. They’re Hall of Fame credentials for the first six years of a career and this is what Sean does and there’s not a day that goes by that we won’t miss him and that we don’t miss him.”
Were you able to spend a lot of time on the draft before Sean left?
“No and really I never do. On the defensive side of the ball I’m evaluating linebackers. We come together as a defensive staff now and then evaluate the defensive players and go over it with our scouts and we have our meetings and stack the board. That’s been the same for me. Over the last couple days, I’m going into the draft room with Rick Reiprish and Mickey (Loomis) and bringing some coaches in and stacking the board, looking at the board, seeing who’s available and starting to look at those scenarios.”
How much time have you had with Steve Spagnuolo before coming to New Orleans?
“When I was in Philadelphia and my last year was ’98 and he took my place, we had some conversations about the Philadelphia Eagles when he came in and I was going to Green Bay. I would consider us pretty close friends since 1999. Obviously when Steve left the Rams this year, he was one of the most highly sought after coaches in the National Football League. He chose us over a lot of teams and we’re grateful he’s here. Our players have really enjoyed being around him this year, as has the coaching staff.”
Have you put any thought into what you will be doing for the first six weeks of the 2012 season, since you categorize yourself as such a “football guy”?
“I really don’t want to go there. I don’t. The only paycheck I’ve ever gotten has been in the National Football League. It’s all I’ve ever done. It’s going to be hard. It is what it is and it’s not going to change. The Commissioner has made his ruling and we’re moving on. Again, as an organization we’re going to pledge our commitment to player safety and make our game a better game.”
Today the Commissioner said today that the players embrace bounties and should not be resolved from responsibility, which most people interpret to mean there will be player suspensions and that the discipline announcement will come soon. How do you interpret what he said?
“I’m not going to interpret what he said.”
Does it change the way you maybe view what happened?
Based on the background and backdrop of Bountygate, as a head coach, how do you reword some things? Are you that conscious of what you will be saying to players now?
“Yes, there’s no question.”
Do you have to watch what you do and say?
“Yes, I think that’s important.”
How do you do that?
“(For) me (it’s) probably tougher than anybody, because some of you guys have heard me talk. The spoken word is important, how you talk to players and the expectations of the players that you have for them has to be different and should be different. I take full responsibility for that and I have to get better at that.”
How much do you think the leaders of your offense and defense have to step up this year in the absence of your head coach?
“It’s amazing. I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to have been here from day one where they took the program over after (Hurricane) Katrina and I would say and a lot of you guys have been to every practice and know this team very well…I would say, ’06, ’07 and ’08 this was a coach-driven football team. I think we’ve seen the transformation of our football team in the Super Bowl week in ’09 that it became a player-driven team. The leadership of our football team really held our players accountable. When you talk about the players that we have on our roster now and their leadership ability, we have a lot of players that on our roster that have won 41 games over the last three years. We have a lot of players on this team that have been to the playoffs three straight years. We have a lot of players on our team that have participated in a Super Bowl and won a World Championship, so the leadership and the accountability that they have to one another and their commitment to winning is going to be critical this year. I would say that this was a coach-driven team that has been transformed into a player-driven team. I think that’s exciting.”
Through some of the happenings, how do you think you were able to land free agents like Curtis (Lofton), (Brodrick) Bunkley and (Ben) Grubbs, guys who were highly thought of?
“I think the players in the National Football League talk amongst themselves more than any professional sports group in the nation. I think there’s a common bond that players have because of the competitive nature and how hard the game is. I think these players clearly knew what kind of program they were coming to, that they teach, motivate and inspire and that they have strong core beliefs. For those players to come here, I think speaks volumes for the organization that us and Mr. Benson have built.”
At what positions are you training the linebackers at when you start installing the defense?
“Right now we’re lining up David (Hawthorne) at the Will, Curtis Lofton at the Mike and (Scott) Shanle at the Sam. These are going to be movable parts obviously. Chris Chamberlain is coming to us. He’s been in this system. He knows both outside positions. We re-signed Jonathan Casillas today. He’s a Will for us. All this can change. These linebackers have to cross-train in case someone gets hurt. That right now is the starting point.”
Would Lofton and Vilma have a second position, since they both are at the Mike?
“If Jonathan was healthy right now, it would probably be Lofton at Sam when we talked about that.”
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Saints after all this?
“I apologize. I don’t watch all the stuff on TV. I don’t read the papers anymore. I just don’t. Number one, I don’t have the time. I know we don’t have any misconceptions. I know our staff doesn’t have any misconceptions and I know our players don’t have any misconceptions. We are what we are and really that’s all that matters to me and I know what our fans are built of. I know our fans have been there for us and will be there for us and their support during this time has been unbelievable for us. I can’t worry about all the perceptions about us right now. I worry about the players that we have on this team, the people we have in this building and our fans.”
You have told us what Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis mean to you and what the game means to you. Does this affect you on a personal level to watch what they’ve gone through?
“Yes, absolutely. They’re my friends. We have a tight organization here. When somebody in this building hurts, there are a lot of people that hurt for them and I’ve never come into an organization when I had to in ’06 and saw the toughness and resiliency of the people in this organization that were coming home from San Antonio and their homes were destroyed and they were living in FEMA trailers. It’s something. Not only do I feel that way about Sean and Mickey, but our whole organization does.”
Will you be concerned that when Sean’s players deliver a hard hit this year, it will be looked at differently?
“It’s still going to be our responsibility as a football team to physically reduce our opponent’s will to compete. We have to understand head to head contact and I understand all that, but we have to play the game at one speed and we’re going to play to the echo of the whistle and none of that’s going to change. It’s not going to change.”
How is Mark Ingram recovering?
“I saw him. Excellent. I talked to Scottie (Patton) the other day. His rehab is right on time. He’s in here every day. He’s chomping at the bit to go.”
Will he be one hundred percent for OTA’s?
“We think. Pretty close. If (Mark) came out, he’d say yes. Scottie’s going to monitor that.”
Was he hurt in a car accident?
“I don’t know. I don’t have any knowledge of that.”
It was a car accident Friday in Alabama.
“You have more time to read the internet than me.”
With your extensive football background and passion, what is it that you are most embarrassed by, by the last few months?
“I’m not tangled in anything. I’m choosing to be a part of this organization and I’m blessed to be a part of this organization. This is where I want to be. That’s number one. That’s a good question though. The greatest time for me that I’ve had besides the birth of my children is when we got on the bus after the World Championship and we were riding from the stadium to the hotel, (Drew) Brees was to my right, the trophy was over there, Sean (Payton) was sitting over there. At that point in time, it was the first time in 32 years I knew what it was like to be a World Champion and it was the first time I was around a true team that put the needs of the team and the needs of their teammates above themselves and it was at that point in time that you have a piece of mind, that I knew what we teach and I know what we’re about and I know the commitment of our players and there’s nothing that anybody can say or anybody can accuse us of, that I know deep in my heart it’s not the truth. I know how we coach. I know how our players play. I know the togetherness of this organization, the togetherness of our team and how hard they’re working now. I have great peace of mind. I really do. I can’t be everything to all people, but I know in my heart what we’re all about.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times