Chris Cooley apologizes to Scot McCloughan, swears he wasn’t Redskins’ mouthpiece
Three weeks after making brief and speculative remarks about Redskins GM Scot McCloughan during a little-noticed segment on his ESPN 980 program, Chris Cooley returned to the topic Friday morning. The world had changed quite a bit since then: McCloughan had been absent from the NFL scouting combine, reports had surfaced of a front-office power struggle, and the general manager was ultimately fired Thursday night.
Some media reports, including those written by The Post, have listed Cooley’s comments — and the team’s lack of any public response — as among the precipitating factors in the front-office divorce. Cooley has steered clear of the topic in the past three weeks. But he addressed it during an impassioned segment Friday that is probably best listened-to.
“No one told us to do the [original] segment, told me to do the segment,” he said. “Can I be more clear on that? We threw out a lot of possible reasons that he could have been silenced. That was one of them. … I used Scot McCloughan’s name and alcohol in the same sentence, and I was wrong. I regret that. I have regretted that. This blew up to be way bigger than I expected it to be, and by the way, it blew up in a report that was in no way shape or form the context that we had suggested. … I’ve apologized to Scot; I feel very sorry that my name’s associated with this. I feel regret that my name’s associated with this. I’ve apologized to the organization.
“You can call me an idiot, you can call me naive, you can call me ignorant, but I didn’t see this entire firestorm that was created,” he said. “I didn’t. It happened, though. I shouldn’t have mentioned his name and alcohol in any context, especially not me, because of the perception that I have some special access to this team, which by the way, is entirely overrated. … But accusing me of being told to float something is like telling me I’m a stupid idiot. … I wouldn’t create a sinister plan. I was not part of any of this. I swear on anything you want to swear on.”
Now time for some awkward first-person backstory.
1. Cooley, on the morning of Feb. 14, made brief remarks about McCloughan and alcohol, in the middle of a wide-ranging segment about the muzzling of the general manager.
2. A friend of mine tweeted something that morning after hearing Cooley make those remarks. It seemed intriguing. I was busy, though, and didn’t listen to the segment until late that afternoon.
3. When I listened, I was somewhat flabbergasted by Cooley’s comments, especially coming from someone who has ties to the organization. But I also didn’t think this was breaking news. After chatting with an editor, I went home, planning to write something up the next morning, which I did.
4. In that item, I used the word “relapse” to describe Cooley’s speculation, which is a word that Cooley never used. I also repeatedly referred to Cooley as a Redskins team employee, which he disputes. He says he is paid by the radio network he works for, which is owned by Daniel Snyder and has offices in Redskins Park, but that he does not work for the team.
“To all of those who keep saying it and writing it, I am not a team employee, okay?” he said Friday. “I was, from 2004-2012, when I played tight end for the Washington Redskins. But after I was cut in camp in 2013, and not brought back, I have not been a team employee since. ESPN 980, this radio station, pays me. They pay me for this radio show. They pay me for the game-day broadcast. I receive all payment through a radio station. In fact, I have a boss named Chris Johnson, who I respond to when I’m sick, when I have vacation days, when I have something going on. I respond to no one at Redskins Park. I do the show every day. They pay me to be an analyst. I am not a team employee in any way shape or form.”
5. Cooley is absolutely correct that he introduced the original segment by saying he had no inside knowledge or information, and that he listed potential alcohol consumption as just one of several possible reasons for McCloughan’s muzzling. I included some of that context in my item. Many subsequent reports did not.
“I made it really clear when we did that show, really clear that I knew nothing in terms of real information,” Cooley said on Friday. “That I had no sources, that I had no insight whatsoever. I made it really clear that the discussion was a discussion about what a fan might think as to why the general manager was not being allowed to talk. … We also [listed] multiple possibilities and took calls on multiple other possibilities. We mentioned it could be an innocent situation where Bruce just wanted to focus on free agency, he wanted Scot to focus on free agency and to focus on the draft without worrying about responsibilities of communicating with the media. We considered the possibility that Bruce didn’t want Scot to answer all the questions about Kirk Cousins. We discussed several possible reasons as to why Scot McCloughan was being muzzled. …
“We also discussed the following: We discussed that it would be crazy as a fan if you didn’t think of his track record and his history of alcohol issues,” Cooley said. “Here’s the deal. When it comes to the idea that I was the mouthpiece, I’ll swear on anything you want to swear on that no one put me up to this. I’ll swear on my daughter. I’ll swear on my unborn son. You want to give me a bible, I’ll swear on a bible. You want to give me a lie detector test; I’ll take a lie detector test.
“NO ONE TOLD ME TO DO THIS. You can be mad at anyone you want to be mad at for this happening, but let me be really clear on something: Bruce Allen, Larry Michael, Jay Gruden, anybody involved in this organization that I know, no one came to me and said, ‘Hey Chris, can you float some information out there so three weeks from now we can fire the general manager.’ No. It’s insanity. And if it were the truth, they’re insane, because it’s hurt everybody to have my name associated with this.”
6. The speculative comments Cooley made in the original segment about possible drinking ran a total of 64 words. The segment soon transitioned into phone calls, which went in other directions.
7. And yet that segment seemed to free other media members to bring up this issue — an issue some media members had been whispering about behind the scenes for quite a while. Perhaps more significantly, the team never commented on the remarks, neither disciplining Cooley — which would have raised questions about the independence of the radio station — nor publicly defending McCloughan.
8. Turning radio segments into blog posts involves editorial judgments: what’s worth transcribing, what’s the headline, what’s the lede, how much context is necessary. Those are editorial judgments that were made by me, not by Cooley. I think that is worth remembering, at least.
“I’m not going to blame anybody in the media,” Cooley said Friday. “This is the media’s job: to take whatever they want to take and make whatever they want to make out of it, and it’s a headline-grabbing media. That’s what we have. That’s how you get a big story. You make a big headline. You speculate. And what I did was also speculative, so it would be hypocritical of me to blame anybody out there.
“What I will say is that not one person that has put this into print has reached out to me, once, ever. Not one person that put this in The Post, not one person that put this in Pro Football [Talk], not one person that put this…