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"He was fired two days later," said Cornwell, the executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. "He was on the way out."
But when Williams left New Orleans for the Rams in January, nobody with the Saints characterized it as a firing. At the time, Payton said it was apparent shortly before the season ended that Williams, with his contract expiring, was likely going to join new St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher, an old friend. The Saints and Williams never discussed an extension, Payton said then.
The league informed the Saints at the start of the playoffs that it was reopening its bounty investigation. Cornwell said Loomis and Payton then told Williams, "There's no place for this in this organization or this league."
The NFL, however, in its statement last month announcing the penalties for team officials, said the GM and coach made only "cursory inquiries" into the possible presence of a bounty program.
Payton's suspension -- due to start last Sunday -- has been on hold pending his appeal, allowing him to get in a few extra days of work as he rushes to create a plan that's as detailed as possible for the Saints' 2012 season.
The results of the appeals could affect whether Bill Parcells, who turns 71 in August, comes out of retirement to take over as interim coach while his former offensive assistant and protege is suspended.
Beyond the punishment for Saints coaches and executives, the NFL still has to determine whether players who were involved in the bounty program will also be disciplined. The NFL has said as many as 27 players also could be sanctioned for their role in the scandal.
The NFL's investigation in New Orleans found that Payton initially lied to league investigators about the existence of a bounty program and instructed his defensive assistants to do the same. It also found that Loomis did not do enough to put a stop to the enterprise after he was informed that the league was looking into it.
Payton twice apologized for his role in the bounty program, saying he takes "full responsibility" for a system that operated for three years under his watch.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.
Follow Rachel Cohen at https://twitter.com/RachelCohenAP.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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