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Saints GM and coach admit blame

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2012 6:15 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2010, file photo, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams looks on during an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator, apologized for running a bounty program that targeted opposing players for injuries. In a statement, he says the program was a FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2010, file photo, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams looks on during an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator, apologized for running a bounty program that targeted opposing players for injuries. In a statement, he says the program was a "terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it." The NFL on Friday said that it had found between 22 and 27 Saints participated in the program over the last three seasons, and that players including quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre were targeted. (Gerald Herbert, File, Associated Press)

Almost a week after the NFL pointed to them for failing to stop a bounty program involving some two dozen Saints players, coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis apologized and took the blame for violations that "happened under our watch."

"These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game," Payton and Loomis added. "Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly to all of our fans," Payton and Loomis said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Payton and Loomis also said New Orleans owner Tom Benson "had nothing to do" with the bounty pool.

"We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility," they said.

The league's investigation, released last Friday, said the bounty program was funded primarily by players for the past three seasons and was overseen by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He admitted to running the program and apologized within hours after the report surfaced.

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2010, file photo, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator  Gregg Williams during their NFL football game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, La. Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have taken FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2010, file photo, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams during their NFL football game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, La. Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have taken "full responsibility" for the bounty program run by former assistant coach Gregg Williams. In a statement released Tuesday, March 6, 2012, Payton and Loomis admit violations of league rules "happened under our watch." They also promised it would never happen again. (Gerald Herbert, File, Associated Press)

The NFL said it confirmed Benson was unaware of the program, and that he told Loomis to stop it immediately, but that Loomis did not. The league also said Payton, though not directly involved, was aware of the bounty pool, but did nothing to stop it.

Williams now is defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. He met with NFL security officials on Monday as part of the league's ongoing investigation.

Once it concludes — the league says there is no timetable — Roger Goodell likely will hand out the stiffest penalties of his 5½ years as commissioner.

Goodell has frequently taken a hard line on any action that threatens player safety. He suspended Detroit's Ndamukong Suh for two games for stomping on an opponent last season; banned Pittsburgh's James Harrison for one game after a series of flagrant hits that culminated in a collision with Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy's helmet; and has ramped up the amount of fines for what the league terms "egregious hits."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said before handing out any penalties, Goodell will review the information with his staff and consult with others, including the union and player leaders.

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2010, file photo, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, foreground, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, background, look on during an NFL football game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, La. Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have taken FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2010, file photo, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, foreground, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, background, look on during an NFL football game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, La. Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have taken "full responsibility" for the bounty program run by former assistant coach Gregg Williams. In a statement released Tuesday, March 6, 2012, Payton and Loomis admit violations of league rules "happened under our watch." They also promised it would never happen again. (Patrick Semansky, File, Associated Press)

The players' union has not seen a full report of the investigation, so it can't be certain if Goodell will levy punishment under the on-field discipline or the personal conduct policy. There's a major distinction, because players can appeal on-field punishment to independent arbitrators Art Shell and Ted Cottrell. Appeals under the personal conduct policy are heard by Goodell and other league officials.

"The commissioner has broad authority to impose discipline for violation of league rules. We're not going to put it in a category right now," Aiello said.

The NFL hasn't cited specific players, but fines and suspensions are probable for those found to have participated in the bounty program.

"We take this issue seriously and we continue to look into it," union spokesman George Atallah said.

Goodell fined the New England Patriots $250,000 and their coach, Bill Belichick, $500,000 for the Spygate scandal in 2007, when the team was caught illegally videotaping the Jets' sideline. New England also was stripped of a first-round draft pick.

That violation pales in comparison to a bounty of up to $50,000 over the last three seasons that rewarded players for knocking targeted opponents out of games. The Saints can expect heavier sanctions than those given the Patriots, with suspensions likely for Loomis and Payton and a seven-figure fine for the organization.

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2011, file photo, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson looks on before the first half of an NFL football game between Saints and the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have taken FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2011, file photo, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson looks on before the first half of an NFL football game between Saints and the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have taken "full responsibility" for the bounty program run by former assistant coach Gregg Williams. In a statement released Tuesday, March 6, 2012, Payton and Loomis admit violations of league rules "happened under our watch." They addad that team owner Tom Benson "had nothing to do" with the bounty pool. (Rich Addicks, File, Associated Press)

"I don't think there can be a limited focus — if the league only is looking to penalize players and coaches," said George Martin, executive director of NFL Alumni and a former player, adding: "It is kind of shocking it still goes on in this time and age.

"The organization has to take responsibility for it because it took place under their jurisdiction," he said. "The league needs to do whatever it takes in the way of discipline to make sure this is stemmed."

John Lynch, an outstanding safety for 16 seasons, once was fined $75,000 for a hit on Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark. Lynch was one of the hardest and surest tacklers in the NFL. He is just as sure that Goodell will hand out hefty punishments.

"I would expect this to be pretty severe and harsh because of the direction the commissioner has taken in making player safety if not his top initiative, then one of them," Lynch said. "If this is true, as blatant as this is, and to have a coach out there saying, 'You knock this guy out of the game. Get him taken off on a cart. Here is the monetary reward,' you need a severe and harsh punishment."

That coach has been identified by the league as Williams, who could face a year's suspension and a six-figure fine. Maybe more.

FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2099, file photo, New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis watches from the sidelines before the start of the Saints-Dallas Cowboys NFL football game in New Orleans. Saints coach Sean Payton and Loomis have taken FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2099, file photo, New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis watches from the sidelines before the start of the Saints-Dallas Cowboys NFL football game in New Orleans. Saints coach Sean Payton and Loomis have taken "full responsibility" for the bounty program run by former assistant coach Gregg Williams. In a statement released Tuesday, March 6, 2012, Payton and Loomis admit violations of league rules "happened under our watch." They also promised it would never happen again. (Bill Haber, File, Associated Press)

The Rams would not say Tuesday what duties Williams currently is performing.

"Coach Williams has shown contrition for his actions and continues to cooperate with the NFL in this investigation," Rams GM Kevin Demoff told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Out of respect for the NFL's ongoing process, we will refrain from commenting until the league has come to a final decision on all aspects of this matter."

Williams could turn to the NFL Coaches Association for help. Its executive director, David Cornwell, was concerned about individual coaches being singled out.

"As this matter unfolds," Cornwell said, "I will work with our executive committee to protect the interests of individual coaches without compromising the NFLCA's fundamental belief that fair play and sportsmanship begins with the men who teach the game."

AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this story.

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