Joe Vitt will fill in for New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton while he serves a one-year suspension for his part in a case the National Football League says involves payments to players for injuring opponents.
Vitt, the team’s assistant head coach and linebackers coach, was interim head coach last season after Payton broke his leg.
Vitt also is suspended for six games of the coming season for his role in the bounty system. Aaron Kromer, the offensive line coach, will take charge during Vitt’s ban, ESPN reported, citing an unidentified person in the league.
“It is important that we keep Sean Payton’s philosophy front and center during this season,” General Manager Mickey Loomis said yesterday in a news release from the team. “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.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week upheld Payton’s one-year suspension, as well as a $500,000 fine on the Saints, the loss of two draft picks, a half-season suspension for Loomis and Vitt’s six-game ban.
The NFL said it discovered a program in which Saints players paid each other bonuses from 2009 through 2011 for on-field accomplishments including forced turnovers and injuring opponents. All such payments violate league rules on non-contract bonuses.
Players funded a bounty pool that paid $1,500 for a “knockout” in which an opposing player was unable to return to the game, and $1,000 for a “cart off” in which opponents were carried from the field, according to the NFL. Payments doubled or tripled during the playoffs. The Saints won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season.
On the day last week when Payton, Loomis and Vitt were appealing their penalties before Goodell in New York, filmmaker Sean Pamphilon released an audio recording of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams encouraging his players to injure the San Francisco 49ers in a profanity-laced speech prior to a playoff game last season. Williams, now defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, was suspended indefinitely.
Payton told reporters last month that the team had talked to Bill Parcells, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, about coaching the Saints during his suspension.
The league is also in discussions with the NFL Players Association about what penalties will be imposed on the players who took part in the bounty program. The union has asked the NFL to share information from an investigation that showed 22 to 27 defensive players were part of the pool.