Sean Payton could miss the entire 2012 season.
While Payton's situation is unique in the circumstances, it will not be the first time that a coach is away for at least part of a season.
You may not be familiar with Jack McKinney, but in 1979 he was in his first season as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a rookie named Magic Johnson. The Lakers were 10-4 when tragedy struck McKinney.
On November 8, 1979 McKinney suffered a severe head injury while riding a bicycle. He was hospitalized for weeks, and his recovery was even longer.
His assistant, Paul Westhead, took over his duties. Even though McKinney could have returned after three months, Westhead was allowed to coach the rest of the season. The Lakers, under Westhead, would win the NBA title.
McKinney did return to the court in 1980—in Indiana.
Johnny Majors was a legendary football player at the University of Tennessee. He was MVP of the SEC in 1955 and 1956. After leading the Pittsburgh Panthers to the 1976 national championship, he returned home to coach the Vols in 1977.
Majors had heart surgery in 1992, and missed the season's first three games. His long-time assistant, Philip Fulmer, got the team off to a 3-0 start.
If Sean Payton misses the whole season, and the Saints win the Super Bowl, will he be back in 2013?
When Majors returned, the Vols slumped. They went 2-3, and Majors was asked to resign effective at season's end.
In 1995, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski left the team after 12 games due to a back injury. The Blue Devils were 9-3 at the time. Krzyzewski's assistant, Pete Gaudet, finished out the season. He went 4-15, and Duke missed the NCAA tournament that year. It is the only year since 1984 that Duke has missed the NCAA tournament.
Of course, Coach K was welcomed back with open arms the next year. He is still there today, and has added two more national titles since.
In 2005, after a 2-3 start, Martz announced he would miss the rest of the season due to a heart condition. Ironically, Joe Vitt, who has been suspended six games for his role in Bountygate, was Martz's interim in St. Louis.
Martz was given medical clearance to coach the last regular season game. The Rams would not let him, and fired him the day after the regular season ended.
Most of these situations ended awkwardly for all involved.
This situation has that same potential.
If Payton misses the entire season, and the Saints go 7-9, it will be easy to welcome him back. However, if the "interim" goes 14-2 and wins the Super Bowl, it could put the Saints in a dilemma.
If that scenario plays out, it would also give owner Tom Benson a way to quickly put the whole scandal behind, by cutting Payton loose when his suspension ends.
If his suspension gets reduced to eight games, and the interim is 8-0, what then? If Payton comes in in mid-season, and stumbles, what then?
The after shock might be the biggest story of the 2012 season.