Futures of Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis?

Sean Payton is one of the three or five best head coaches in the NFL. He’s won a Super Bowl and helped a city and a region recover from Hurricane Katrina.

He’s the most brilliant offensive mind of our time and he’s had winning seasons every year since 2008.

So why are people suddenly calling for the coach of the New Orleans Saints to be fired?

It’s not about football. It’s about a lot more.

Check out this column from colleague Ashley Fox, who writes that Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis should be fired for their role in what the NFL says was a “bounty program’’ in which New Orleans coaches and players pooled money to reward defenders when they injured opponents. We’re not talking about $500 for an interception. We’re talking that much or more for intentionally injuring an opponent.

I’ve thought long and hard about what punishments Loomis and Payton should face since the news broke on Friday. I’ve come to the conclusion that I agree totally with Fox.

Payton and Loomis have to go. It's harsh, but it's warranted, probably even necessary. If they're not fired, Payton and Loomis should be suspended, probably for a full season.

I know former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is being portrayed as the main culprit in all this. Williams is gone and now is the coordinator in St. Louis. The league is looking into allegations that he did similar programs at other stops in his career. It seems pretty likely that Williams, who has admitted to and apologized for running the program in New Orleans, will end up being suspended or maybe even banned from coaching.

But punishing Williams doesn’t punish the Saints and they’ve more than earned that. They used the bounties for three years.

To simply say Williams was the bad guy and Payton and Loomis shouldn’t suffer any consequences is ridiculous. They’re more guilty than Williams because they held higher positions.

Anyone who knows anything about the Saints knows that Payton runs every aspect of the organization and knows everything that goes on in the building. The league’s report said Payton knew about the program and did nothing to stop it.

Hmm, I can think of several big-name college coaches who went down through the years because they didn’t do enough when scandals enveloped their programs and a lot of people felt they should be held to a higher standard because they were head coaches.

We’re not talking about the NCAA here. We’re talking the NFL and allegations of anything that was designed to intentionally injure players couldn’t come at a worse time in history. Commissioner Roger Goodell has been making all sorts of noise about player safety. The lockout and labor negotiations last year were largely about player safety and we’ve seen new rules put in to cut down on offseason workouts and heard lots of other talk about the importance of player safety. How many stories have we seen about concussions in recent years?

Payton, in essence, thumbed his nose at player safety the last three years. Should he be fired because of it? Cast your vote in the accompanying SportsNation poll. I say he has to go.

Same for any assistant coach still on staff that knew anything about the bounty program. Yeah, it’s tough to fire a coach in March. But the Saints need to be proactive on this. If they keep the current staff in place for the 2012 season, I’m telling you right now every game will resemble a boxing match. Opposing teams would go after the Saints because the Saints went after them. I don’t think the league wants boxing matches these days.

The Saints have defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on staff. He wasn’t around when this stuff was going on. He’s been a head coach in St. Louis and has a clean reputation around the league.

What about Loomis? I think he’s got to go as well. Although Payton definitely played the dominant role in this coach-general manager relationship, Loomis has carried the title of general manager. In theory, that means managing an organization overall and maintaining the integrity of a franchise would seem to be part of the job description.

The NFL report says Loomis was told by owner Tom Benson to stop the bounty program. The NFL also said Loomis failed to follow through on that.

I know a lot of other general managers that would immediately do what they were told by an owner. Loomis didn’t do that and therefore failed in his duty to uphold the integrity of the franchise and the league. Heck, once the New England Patriots were hit with Spygate, all talk of them filming other teams ceased — perhaps not coincidentally, they haven't won a Super Bowl since.

Loomis and Payton have done many great things for the Saints and New Orleans. But they failed their team, their city and the NFL by allowing this disgraceful practice to go on for three years. Somebody has to pay the price on this one.