Three emotions spring to mind concerning the end of the Scot McCloughan era in Washington, an era that lasted about as long as the Steve Spurrier era and the Jim Zorn era.
There is anger: What felt like the team’s last unopened box — hiring a legitimate personnel man with a championship pedigree — has now been ripped apart and tossed away. There is sadness: Whomever you fault for this result, at the human level it’s a heartbreaking outcome for a talented man so many people were rooting for. And there is incredulity: The same team that endured the golf-course resignation fiasco (2003), the hire-an-offensive-coordinator-and-turn-him-into-head coach fiasco (2008), the bingo-caller fiasco (2009), the cardiovascular endurance fiasco (2010), the all-in-for-week-one fiasco (2013) and the Harvest Fest/Feast fiasco (2014) has now fired its GM on the first day of free agency while publicly (and anonymously) attacking him.
Maybe McCloughan was overrated. Maybe the modest successes of the past two years were more attributable to Jay Gruden, or Sean McVay, or Kirk Cousins than to the GM. Maybe the sky will not fall, and the practice bubble will not collapse.
But you don’t want regime change every two years. You don’t want to announce your faith in a potential savior — “a special opportunity,” Bruce Allen said on the day McCloughan was hired — and then chase him off two years later. You don’t want players going on radio shows and bemoaning the return to chaos. You don’t want to fire your GM on the first day of free agency.
And you don’t want to create yet another haunted glossary of cursed terms and phrases.
“Winning off the field”: This is what it’s called when you hire as general manager a man with a history of drinking problems — a man who just admitted in a national publication that he’s still drinking — in order to mollify an unhappy fanbase (and media corps); when you allow fans to coronate that man as the savior; when your team then has its best back-to-back seasons in nearly 20 years; when your front-office dissolves amid a torrent of back-stabby credit-hungry power struggles; and when you ultimately fire said general manager while anonymously leaking that he has, yes that’s right, a drinking problem.
“A great guy”: This is what your team president called that general manager in an appearance on a Nashville radio station, approximately a week before firing him. The same day, the team president told a local reporter that McCloughan is “more than a worker … he’s a friend,” approximately a week before firing him. In fairness, the team’s statement about McCloughan’s firing did say that the Redskins “wish him success in his future endeavors.” As one does with one’s friends.
“He’ll be at work again”: This is what your team president told a local reporter about McCloughan, approximately a week before firing him, explaining that the GM just needed to take care of some family matters before returning to the job. A death in the family, you see. He’ll be at work again.
“No further comment on his departure”: This is what the team said in its public statement about the deposed general manager, on the same night this newspaper published a story with anonymous quotes trashing the man’s behavior, saying his situation has been “a disaster for 18 months,” and accusing him of showing up in the locker room drunk.
“We’re here to support him”: This is what your team president said of McCloughan on the day he was hired, when asked about his sometimes troubled past. “I was aware of [the problems] when Scot was going through his situation,” Allen said, “and I did talk to him about it and we had a very forthright conversation and we’re here to support him and he would not be taking this job if he thought it would be a concern.” Two years and two months later, the team publicly fired McCloughan after an interminable episode that further muddied his reputation.
“We’re busy with free agency”: This is how your top spokesman explained your general manager’s absence from the facility two days before his firing.
“A solid foundation for long-term success”: This is how you described your progress in a March 2016 letter to fans, 51 weeks before firing your general manager, and somewhere in the middle of the 18-month disaster you will later leak to the press.
“I have great relations with our fans”: That’s what Allen said after hiring McCloughan, when asked about the perception that he was a strong administrator and a bad judge of football talent. A poor won-loss record, he said, “makes you look at everything you’re doing and say, ‘How can we do this better?’ Whether it’s in the coaching and personnel, whether it’s in PR, whether it’s in the way we present ourselves, in any manner. Let’s find ways to present ourselves and win.”
“Redskins Nation”: This is a television program whose description promises “all-access coverage” of the Washington Redskins. Here was some of that all-access coverage in Thursday’s opening segment, taped a few hours before McCloughan was fired: “I’ll give you the tenor of what’s going on here at Redskins Park,” Senior Vice President Larry Michael said. “You’ve got the typical feel here before free agency. There’s a lot of activity. All the scouts are here. All the coaches are here. It’s a beautiful day here in the heart of Loudoun County.”
“In charge of all the personnel department and the personnel on this team”: That’s what Allen said about the general manager when he hired him, less than two years before he started disagreeing with him on key personnel decision and cursing at him for speaking with a player in the locker room.
“The high road”: This is a mysterious and hard-to-locate path, thus far identified by only one person in this incident: a teenager who happens to be the son of the deposed general manager. “Just wanted to take a quick moment to thank all the fans, media, and members of the Redskins I got to know out in DC,” McCloughan’s son wrote Thursday night. “I wasn’t there much, but when I was, you guys always treated me with the [utmost] respect, and I’ll always appreciate that.”
“Horse[crap] carousel”: This is how one of your biggest and most famous fans, Dale Earnhardt Jr., described your organizational strategy in a message to his two million Twitter followers.
“A proven winner”: This is what your owner called Allen on the day he was hired as the team’s first general manager in a decade. Over the next seven years, the Redskins went 45-66-1, the 27th-winningest record in the NFL.
“He wants to win more than life itself”: This is what Allen once said about your owner. Since he bought the franchise, it has the NFL’s 26th-winningest record.
“Let’s not freak out about the Redskins, even after that embarrassing finale”: This is the headline a local sports columnist wrote in January, arguing that the basic forward momentum of the team was strong, and that it had at least purged itself of the cannibalistic soap opera impulses from the past. That columnist was me. That piece didn’t age particularly well.
“Hope”: This is something dumb.
“Rock bottom”: This is something that does not exist.
“Ashburnistan”: This is where the Redskins have their offices. It’s also where they do their finest work.
(That last one was coined by former Postie Clinton Yates in the early days of the McCloughan era. It’s been out of circulation for a while. Seems to be back.)