Legendary head coach Bill Parcells wasn't the Saints' only worthy candidate to take over on an interim basis in 2012, so there's no need to get frantic now that it looks like the Big Tuna has taken a pass.
Parcells certainly would have been a terrific option, and the aggressive nature of his courtship should send a strong message to the rest of the Saints: If Sean Payton won't go down without making some noise, his players shouldn't either.
Payton, who will be suspended Monday through the end of the 2012 season, has a few days to get the Saints lined up in his absence. Obviously, the decision to hire an interim head coach is at the top of his to-do list.
The Saints have three strong candidates who are already wearing the fleur-de-lis to work every day, and that type of low-maintenance solution doesn't have as much boom-bust potential as someone like Parcells.
From here, the job should come down to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, though Carmichael is the most deserving. Carmichael and Vitt took on more responsibility last season when Payton broke his leg during a game, so they probably have more of an inside track than Spagnuolo, who was hired by the Saints this offseason after getting fired as the Rams head coach.
Carmichael — who grew up in Medway, Mass., attended Boston College and began his coaching career at New Hampshire in 1984 — was the Saints' offensive play-caller for the final 10 games of the 2011 season, and since their identity is on that side of the ball, it would be a natural fit, particularly since he's got the team's leader and the face of the city, Drew Brees, in his corner.
Payton deserves a lot more of the credit for the Saints' offensive success than Carmichael, who has been with the team since 2006 and coordinated the offense since 2009, but this would serve as Carmichael's opportunity to really set himself apart. Payton, after all, was given a prominent chance to create his own name when Parcells made him his assistant head coach with the Cowboys, so Payton knows how much this would mean for Carmichael.
Vitt is the leader to take the interim job, according to ESPN, but there's a major problem with that. Vitt will be suspended for the first six games of the regular season for his role in the Saints' bounty system, so his presence at the front of the organization will undoubtedly be a constant distraction. Adding to that, it makes little sense to put Vitt in charge for more than three months of camps, only to have him relinquish his duties at the start of the regular season — possibly to Carmichael.
Spagnuolo is the defensive mastermind who stymied the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, but he flopped in three seasons with the Rams. Just 52 years old, Spagnuolo should get another chance as a head coach down the road, but this isn't the right time. Plus, if the Saints do well under Spagnuolo's guise in 2012 — and they have enough talent to make the playoffs regardless of the head coach — Payton runs the risk of losing one of the game's brightest defensive coordinators after just one season.
The Saints are in a tough spot, and the fallout from the bounty scandal might even cripple their chances of getting back to the Super Bowl with their current core. But they're lucky enough to have some quality coaching candidates in place, and Carmichael looks like the best man for the job.