Sean Payton is back as coach of the New Orleans Saints.
Payton’s season-long suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty program was lifted by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday, nearly two weeks earlier than expected.
The decision allows Payton to attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday, where some of the top college players available for the NFL Draft will be competing.
Payton, along with assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis, and four players including Jonathan Vilma, was suspended after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.
“I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations,” Payton said in a statement. “Furthermore, I have assured the commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed.”
The suspension was scheduled to end after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, but was moved up after Payton and Goodell met on Monday.
Saints owner Tom Benson welcomed back his coach.
“We are all thankful that Sean Payton has been reinstated,” Benson said. “We have a lot of work to do and we are in the middle of it right now.”
ROONEY RULE: The Fritz Pollard Alliance is calling for the NFL to expand the Rooney Rule to include coordinators, assistant head coaches and club president positions.
The proposal sent Tuesday to NFL executives comes a week after no minorities were hired for eight coaching vacancies and seven general manager openings.
There are only four minority head coaches going into the 2013 season, the fewest since 2003.
“We believe pipeline issues are a part of the reason we’ve seen a reduction in head coaches of color over the past few years, and this expansion will diversify the head coaching pipeline,” the alliance said in its letter.
BRADY’S SLIDE: The NFL is looking into Tom Brady’s leg-up slide that hit Ravens safety Ed Reed in the AFC Championship Game.
League spokesman Greg Aiello says “any play of that nature is routinely reviewed.”
The Patriots quarterback could be subject to a fine if the league believes he violated any player safety rules.
During the final minute of the first half, Brady slid to the ground to end of an impromptu run. The quarterback’s upraised leg hit the onrushing Reed, who temporarily limped away. But Reed was not injured.