PHOENIX — Despite public assurance that Scot McCloughan would return to work, Redskins President Bruce Allen said he concluded it was in the team’s interest to fire its general manager March 9, the opening day of free agency and the start of the new NFL calendar year, to signal a change in direction.
“I thought it was the right thing to do for where we were at the time,” Allen said Sunday, making his first public comments about McCloughan’s ouster since the Redskins abruptly fired him two years and two months into his four-year contract. “We wanted to give clarity to our free agents and to our staff of where we were going. For Scot, it was good timing because it allows him to be hired by anyone right now before this draft.”
In an interview at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, where NFL owners are holding their annual meeting over the next four days, Allen acknowledged personal disappointment over the failed relationship, noting his respect for McCloughan’s ability and his own working relationship with McCloughan’s father and brother, both scouts, while with the Oakland Raiders.
“I enjoyed working with them and the success we had in Oakland. Obviously that’s what I envisioned when I brought Scot to the Redskins,” Allen said of his hand-picked general manager. “So, yes, I’m disappointed it didn’t work out. I hope it works out for him in the future. My responsibility is to the Redskins and the organization and the scouts and the players on this team.”
Allen wouldn’t comment on the detailed account of a Redskins official that McCloughan’s alcohol dependency impaired his performance. “It’s just not the Scot situation; I wouldn’t talk about private conversations I’ve had with anyone,” Allen said. “Our team is a family.”
McCloughan has not responded to multiple requests for comment since his firing and didn’t return a message Sunday afternoon.
Allen dismissed reports that his relationship with McCloughan deteriorated over time, marked by professional jealousy, disagreements on personnel decisions and at least one profane rebuke.
“I heard all the different things that were said afterward,” Allen said. “Scot and I had a wonderful relationship. I do like him as a person. And I wanted him to do great. And it just didn’t work out.”
As required by NFL rules, the Redskins have notified the NFL that McCloughan was fired. Allen said he didn’t know whether McCloughan intends to request arbitration over the money remaining on his contract.
On other topics, Allen praised the work of the Redskins’ scouting department in free agency and voiced confidence in its ability to steer the Redskins through the April 27-29 NFL draft, in which the team has 10 selections, including the 17th overall.
He remains bullish on the team’s ability to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract by the July 15 deadline, saying, “I’m still confident. It’s not that hard.”
He enumerated the upsides he sees in Cousins, who set back-to-back single-season records for passing yards in leading the Redskins to their first consecutive winning seasons since 1996 and 1997.
“Both his last two seasons he has played really under a one year [deal], and you can tell by the way he has played, it doesn’t really affect him,” Allen said. “It’s a special trait that he has. He has a nice confidence to him, and each year he’s getting better. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
And he offered a window on owner Daniel Snyder’s thinking in extending Coach Jay Gruden’s contract two more years.
Gruden had two years remaining on a five-year contract when he met with Snyder and Allen following the 2016 season, which ended with a loss to the New York Giants. Nonetheless, Snyder told Gruden during that meeting that he liked the direction the team was going in, according to Allen. Gruden is the first head coach to receive a contract extension in Snyder’s 18-year tenure as Redskins owner.
“[Gruden] has established himself as a good leader for our team,” Allen said. “Our players have responded well to him. His honesty and his directness and his sense of humor have taken us through some speed bumps in the season. His ability to creatively come up with new ways to attack a defense is something that we’re very fortunate to have.”
McCloughan’s firing — amid mounting signs of a frayed relationship — was made official by a four-sentence statement issued March 9. But it was amplified by a team official speaking without attribution who characterized the final 18 months of the GM’s tenure as “a disaster.”
McCloughan’s ouster was met with intense anger among many ardent Redskins fans who were upset that the team, in their view, had not only run off its best talent evaluator but also allowed a team official to publicly disparage and debase the general manager in whom they had placed their trust. Many vented their disgust on social media, followed by a #FireAllen hashtag.
Allen said he was aware of the hashtag and said he took the criticism in stride, viewing it as coming from fans who want the same thing he wants. “I love the passion or our fans,” Allen said. “I love the open dialogue. We understand what they want; we understand what they want us to get done.”
According to Allen, the loss to the Giants prompted several offseason changes, including a shake-up of the defensive coaching staff. Although the Giants loss was one of Cousins’s worst games, Allen noted that it was largely Cousins’s performance to that point that had gotten the Redskins within a victory of making the playoffs.
What’s essential, Allen said, was for the Redskins not to squander such precious opportunities next season. To that end, he said the team’s 10 free agent signings (including four returning players) should help.
Allen gave no insight into the criteria for the Redskins’ next general manager; he wouldn’t discuss the level or experience he and Snyder would seek or the level of authority they were prepared to give the next GM. Such details, he said, would be worked out after the draft, when the Redskins will have a chance to interview front-office executives currently under contract.