“By the way, Cooley, welcome to radio,” Steve Czaban said just past 4 on Thursday afternoon. “The over-under is 18 months. You’re gonna make it 18 months.”
“We all make changes in life,” responded Chris Cooley, the former Redskins tight end, sitting next to Czaban in a Rockville radio studio. “I’m going through a change here. I’ll be honest: I cannot believe that I’m sitting here with headphones on behind a desk talking into a microphone to you guys. It’s weird for me. But I kind of like it.”
Within seconds, though, ruminations on the future of their new ESPN 980 radio show – “The Drive With Cooley and Czabe” – were put on hold. John Wall was on the phone for an interview. Cooley – wearing a Ben Gay t-shirt, a Washington Senators cap, shorts and untied sneakers – soon chimed in, asking Wall why he wanted to stay in D.C.
(“Hey John, it’s Chris,” he said first. “What’s up man?”)
It’s a question close to Cooley’s heart. After it was clear he wouldn’t be back with the Redskins this season, the 31-year old thought about leaving both the area and the world of pro football. He owns 600 acres in Wyoming, and wanted to try spending a year there, without a job.
“Honestly, if I hadn’t been given this job, I’d be living in Wyoming right now,” Cooley said between breaks in Thursday’s debut show. “This is the only job I wanted. I had a lot of job offers, a lot of things I could have auditioned for, other teams I could have played for. But I wanted to do something I liked, something I thought I could have fun with and not have to drive for.”
While last week’s shows were broadcast from Rockville, “The Drive” will originate from Redskins Park three days a week, just minutes from Cooley’s home. And the fact that he’ll be around his old workplace was crucial to his radio deal, which includes a role in the game-day Redskins Radio Network broadcasts.
He still has dozens of friends in the training room, in the equipment room, in the marketing department and in the locker room. His new job will keep him around these pals.
“I’m on the team flight,” Cooley noted during another break. “I get to travel every week with my friends. That was literally the biggest factor in me staying and doing this: I get to hang out with my friends every week.”
In fact, Cooley said he proposed to Redskins GM Bruce Allen that he work in the booth during game days – even if it were as an intern – and serve as a Redskins’ community relations star during the week, shaking hands and playing charity golf tournaments.
“They came back and said if you want to do [the booth], you’re going to do radio,” Cooley recalled.
(Later I asked if his hope was to become a full-on radio color man for the team. “That’s my goal,” he said. “That’s what I want to do. Travel. Hang out.”)
And thus here he was on Thursday, texting Rich Eisen’s producer to make sure the NFL Network host and longtime friend would call in for his scheduled appearance. He reviewed interview notes written on a legal pad – “I like that my radio notes are now combined with my football training camp notes from last year, that’s how often I use notepads,” he said.
He brought a certain locker room vibe to the studio, jokingly pulling a copy of Playboy out of his backpack at one point and asking if anyone had any dip at another. He told stories from his playing days – calculating how much money Adam Archuleta made per play, getting run over by new afternoon drive competitor LaVar Arrington during his first training camp, drinking a beer with Allen after his release.
He was honest, describing preseason games as “a little bit of a joke,” and admitting that he’s heard NFL players use the N word “thousands of times” over the years. He talked about his life transition, noting that “I have to be a grown-up now” and explaining how he’s attempting to respond to e-mails he might have previously ignored. And he talked Wizards and Nats, one of the perennial challenges for Redskins players-turned-radio-hosts.
“I’ve loved sports my whole life,” Cooley said. The show “gives me a reason to go to Nats game, it gives me a reason to go to Caps games, it gives me a reason to hang out with those guys.”
After three hours, Cooley sat on a table to break down his first effort with third host Al Galdi and vice president of programming Chuck Sapienza. The latter told him to jump into the mix more. He told him not to act like a radio host, but to keep being a ballplayer. He told him to use Twitter more during the show, and to jot down notes, and to shake off any criticism.
“Oh buddy, I’ve dealt with that long enough,” Cooley replied. “That doesn’t bother me at all. I just want to have fun and be comfortable with everyone in here. It might be a week, it might be two weeks. I don’t think it’ll even be that long.”