Sean Payton offered an apology Friday in his first formal statement since the NFL announced his season-long suspension two days earlier, saying he takes "full responsibility" for the bounty scandal that led to unprecedented league sanctions against the New Orleans Saints.
"I share and fully support the league's concerns and goals on player safety," Payton said in a written statement released by the Saints. "It is, and should be paramount.
"Respecting our great game and the NFL shield is extremely important to me," Payton added, referring to the league's famous logo.
Payton said that as head coach, he should take full responsibility for a program which the NFL says offered improper cash bonuses for big hits that either knocked targeted star players out of the game of left them needing help off the field.
The NFL has said Payton initially lied to NFL investigators about the program, at first denying its existence, and also instructed his defensive assistants to lie. The league also slapped an eight-game suspension on general manager Mickey Loomis and a six-game suspension on assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers.
Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who left the Saints after last season to join the St. Louis Rams, ran the bounty program and has been suspended indefinitely.
In his statement, Payton said the Saints "will implement all necessary protections and protocols, and I will be more vigilant going forward."
Payton, however, won't begin exercising that vigilance until after New Orleans hosts the Super Bowl next February, when his suspension officially ends.
The coach also thanked team owner Tom Benson, his players and Saints fans "for their overwhelming support."
Some Saints players have already been in touch with Payton to let him know they are behind him, and starting right tackle Zach Strief said on Friday players "owe it" to their embattled coach to come closer together, live up to the standards he set during the past six seasons and do everything they can to win in his honor while he is away.
"This season is going to take on an us-versus-the-world mentality," Strief said. "The perception at this point is not positive with us. We've worked very hard, I know as players, to gain respect, not only as a good team but as a good group of guys. That perception will go completely out the window now, and I think that'll be kind of a rallying cry for us. It will give us a chance to kind of come together closer than we've ever been and say, 'Look, nobody wants us to even win anymore, and we're going to win for each other, and for coach Payton and Mickey and the guys that essentially took this fall.'"