NEW ORLEANS – Sean Payton handed over control of his team to Joe Vitt once before and the Saints have decided to do it again.
The Saints on Thursday named Payton’s trusted second-in-command their interim coach, despite the fact that Vitt will miss a third of the season for his role in New Orleans’ bounty system.
For his part, Payton received a season-long suspension – which begins Monday; Vitt, who takes over Monday, was handed a six-game suspension.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in his announcement that the team will address at a later time how to divvy up Vitt’s responsibilities during his six-week absence.
It is important that we keep Sean Payton’s philosophy front and center during this season, Loomis said. Sean has been the driving force behind the tremendous success our team has enjoyed during the past six years; his leadership will be missed. But we need to set a course of action that gives us the best chance to win this season without our head coach.
Vitt, who carries the titles of assistant head coach and linebackers coach, briefly stepped in as acting head coach last season when Payton broke his leg.
Vitt also was interim coach with St. Louis in 2005 before joining New Orleans as part of Payton’s first staff in 2006.
Vitt will be able to oversee the offseason training program and training camp before stepping aside for the first six weeks of the regular season.
The NFL played no role in the decision-making process.
It’s the Saints’ decision, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, adding the team did not have to get approval from the league to make Vitt the interim coach.
Loomis said the Saints expect to have a plan laid out for Vitt’s absence by training camp.
We are fortunate to have a great veteran coaching staff well-equipped to handle this challenge, Loomis said. 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.