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Somers: How much does a bounty and a lawsuit figure into Cardinals' pursuit of new coach?

Shakespeare wrote that misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. NFL coaching searches do, too.

Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill apparently is willing to overlook his franchise’s interesting history with two candidates as he searches for a replacement for coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was fired last Monday, the day after the season ended.

The Cardinals have requested permission to interview at least three outside candidates for their head coaching job, according to reports: former Saints coach Sean Payton, former Dolphins coach Brian Flores and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) talks to San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans (right) after the game on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, at Levi's Stadium. The two were teammates for a year during Watt's rookie season in Houston in 2011.
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) talks to San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans (right) after the game on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, at Levi's Stadium. The two were teammates for a year during Watt's rookie season in Houston in 2011.

Payton and Flores each has an interesting history involving the Cardinals, one that Bidwill appears to be willing to set aside in order to find someone who can win a playoff game, which the franchise hasn’t done since 2015.

The NFL suspended Payton for the 2012 season for his role in a “bounty” scheme that paid Saints players who hurt opponents and/or knocked them out of games in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.

That 2009 season is significant in Cardinals history. They played the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs in New Orleans in January of 2010, and it turned out to be quarterback Kurt Warner’s last game.

Two years later after an investigation, the NFL more than 20 Saints players received money for hits on targeted players in that three-year period, including Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and Warner. Payments were doubled or tripled in the playoffs.

It was obvious early in the playoff game against the Cardinals that the Saints wanted to inflict great pain upon Warner. As I watched early in that game, it seemed clear that while the Saints maybe weren't aiming for Warner's head, they weren't avoiding it at all costs, either.

Warner left the game for a brief time after defensive lineman Bobby McCray hit him with a blindside block after an interception. Warner returned but backup Matt Leinart finished the 45-14 Saints victory.

Warner later called McCray’s hit legal and said it had nothing to do with his decision to retire. That, he said, was made weeks before the 2009 season ended.

But it was a bad look for the Saints then, and it became worse two years later when details of the bounty program emerged. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams orchestrated it and ultimately was suspended indefinitely.

The NFL found that Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis knew about the program and did nothing to stop it. Payton was suspended for a season and Loomis for eight games.

Payton returned to his job a year later and polished both his resume and reputation. He stepped down after last season, but has said several times he is interested in returning to coaching.

Read more: NFL insider: Sean Payton to Cardinals 'pretty legit'

Bidwill plans to find out just how interested in the coming week, when he is supposed to interview Payton. Bidwill, apparently, harbors no grudge for that 2010 playoff game.

Flores’ history with the Cardinals is an indirect one. He was fired by the Dolphins after the 2021 season and filed a lawsuit last Feb. 1 against the NFL, the Dolphins, Giants, Broncos and 29 “John Doe” teams, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices.

Not long after, two other coaches joined the suit: former Cardinals coach Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, a former Cardinals defensive coordinator. The Cardinals, Texans and Titans were added to the suit, reducing the number of “John Does” by three.

Wilks’ lawyers alleged he was “not given any meaningful chance to succeed.”

"When Coach Flores filed this action, I knew I owed it to myself, and to all Black NFL coaches and aspiring coaches, to stand with him," Wilks said in a statement at the time. "This lawsuit has shed further important light on a problem that we all know exists, but that too few are willing to confront.

"Black coaches and candidates should have exactly the same ability to become employed, and remain employed, as white coaches and candidates. That is not currently the case, and I look forward to working with Coach Flores and Coach Horton to ensure that the aspiration of racial equality in the NFL becomes a reality."

Related: Arizona Cardinals coaching, GM search updates, speculation

Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant Brian Flores, right, watches as the team goes through drills during an NFL football practice on Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant Brian Flores, right, watches as the team goes through drills during an NFL football practice on Tuesday, May 31, 2022, in Pittsburgh.

That prompted a statement from the Cardinals saying their decisions “were entirely driven by what was in the best interests of our organization and necessary for team improvement. We are confident that the facts reflect that and demonstrate that these allegations are untrue.”

The lawsuit is ongoing and could make Bidwill’s interview of Flores awkward. Or at the very least, interesting.

Hours after firing Kingsbury last Monday, Bidwill promised to cast a net far and wide in finding a new general manager and coach. True to his word, that cast so far includes a coach who put a bounty on Bidwill’s former quarterback and another who is suing him, along with the rest of the NFL.

It’s odd, but as another famous writer, Snoop Dogg, advised: Maybe it’s best to let bygones be bygones. Especially after you’ve gone 4-13.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Cardinals coaching search produces strange bedfellows