JUPITER, Fla. -- Sitting in a box behind home plate at Roger Dean Stadium on an idyllic Monday afternoon, Bill Parcells was doing what he did on many March days: watching the Cardinals, his team of choice, near his home with good friend Ron Wolf. Only on this day, his cell phone kept ringing and beeping. Former players, media people, peers in and out of the league, all wanting to know one thing.
"Here's a text from Willie McGinest,'' Parcells said as the Mets-Cards game wound down. " 'You going back to coach? League needs you.' ''
It's way premature, obviously, and the odds are against Parcells, 70, returning to coach his fifth NFL team this fall. But ESPN reported Monday that Saints coach Sean Payton, due to begin a one-year suspension connected to the league's sanctions of the franchise for a three-year bounty program next Monday, has "broached'' the idea of Parcells taking over as interim coach of the Saints for the 2012 season.
At the baseball game, Parcells would not discuss many of the specifics of his conversations with Payton. But he did say: "Sean Payton and I know each other well, and he has sought my counsel about his situation with the Saints. He has told me a little bit about the team, about the situation they're in, and about the players. But that is it.''
He said Payton has certainly not offered him the interim coaching job -- nor would that likely be the province of Payton to do.
I asked Parcells if he had the bug to return to coaching.
"Do I have the bug?'' he said, then paused. "I don't think so.''
He said he has had two opportunities to return to coaching since he retired from the Cowboys after the 2006 season and said he had no desire to do so.
But this is such a unique situation that it's hard to rule Parcells out totally. He's close to Payton, and Payton views him as a mentor. It's likely that Payton has conversed with Parcells more than anyone outside the organization since being handed the longest suspension an NFL head coach has received. The Saints are a playoff-ready team, with a Super Bowl caliber offense and one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Drew Brees. But they also have a porous defense that wrecked their championship chances last season. Defense, obviously, is Parcells' specialty.
It's possible he would view this as a once-in-a-lifetime 10-month adventure, after which he could slide back into his semi-retirement, which is heavy on baseball and horse racing. He owns several horses, one of which is racing at Aqueduct this week. And he lives during the summer months in Saratoga, N.Y., where he frequents the legendary racetrack there daily. He currently works part of the year for ESPN, and is preparing now to do an NFL Draft special with former NFL general manager Bill Polian.
The subject is complicated by many factors. Payton may appeal his one-year suspension, and while he does, he would be allowed to stay on the job, perhaps through much of April. And if the year suspension was reduced, the Saints may feel they shouldn't import an outsider to lord over the team for, say, 12 games until Payton returns. The clock on Parcells' Hall of Fame candidacy would also be reset; a coach must be retired for five years before being considered for election to the Hall, and so if Parcells coached this fall, he wouldn't be eligible for election until the Hall of Fame Class of 2018. That likely wouldn't be a significant detriment to Parcells returning -- if he got the itch to do so.
It probably won't be very long before the process accelerates, with the Saints delegation in town for the league meetings in nearby Palm Beach. If they want to meet with Parcells, it certainly wouldn't be difficult.
Parcells would be 71 in August, and would be the oldest head coach in the league if he returns. He is the league's 11th-winningest coach of all-time.