To the morgue goes the Scot McCloughan era, all two years of it, a place reserved for just about every plan the Washington Redskins make. Two years ago, McCloughan arrived being hailed as a fixer, but he didn’t last long enough to fix anything, including his reputation.
In hindsight, he was merely a pacifier. Team President Bruce Allen inserted his hiring into the screaming mouths of the fan base, and they sucked on the new hope for a good while, creating “In Scot We Trust” T-shirts and celebrating the arrival of the astute talent evaluator the team had lacked for nearly all of Daniel Snyder’s tenure as the owner. However, this partnership was destined to fail for two reasons: McCloughan is McCloughan. And Washington is Washington. Neither side truly changed, and neither accounted for the other’s flaws.
Neither can cry victim, either. The only victims are the fans, the players and the members of the organization who bought into the dream of a culture change. They spent two years enjoying the feeling of change, identifying the signs of change and envisioning the possibilities of change. But now McCloughan is gone, fired amid dueling accusations of the GM’s alcohol abuse and Allen’s Machiavellian attempt to discredit and ditch him.
Now that you know the chaotic and humiliating ending — or, rather, the regression to dysfunctional normalcy for Washington — you can retrace the disaster and determine what went wrong. Get past how quickly this escalated from whispers of discontent to a shocking dismissal. Take off the blinders you applied to give McCloughan’s rebuilding plan a chance.
What’s left? You see a team that, two years ago, hastily plopped a man with a drinking problem into its toxic environment without a proper plan to support him and ensure he had the best chance to succeed. Instead, Allen created an exit strategy. He structured the job with safeguards. In case it all failed, Allen limited McCloughan’s power and influence despite declaring publicly his GM would have final say on all personnel matters. Allen protected the organization, which is part of his job, by making McCloughan disposable.
Given that McCloughan had exited jobs in San Francisco and Seattle because of alcohol-related issues, Allen had to determine a way to minimize the risk of bringing in a brilliant executive with a problem. It’s a decision that teams often have to make, but the good ones also specialize in creating an atmosphere that gives any risky acquisitions the best chance to work. That’s where Allen and Snyder failed. They planned for an escape rather than success.
And that leads to the alcohol issue. It’s the reason that a team source offered to explain McCloughan’s firing. Included were accusations that would all but ensure McCloughan, as an addict who has lost three jobs, is done working in the NFL: showing up drunk to work and during games and creating “a disaster for 18 months.”
If true, McCloughan has no defense. He’s a 46-year-old man who reportedly has been to rehab multiple times. But even before he took the Washington job, he drank in front of ESPN writer Seth Wickersham and intimated that he can control his alcohol use. That’s a sign of trouble that Washington ignored in hiring McCloughan and didn’t account for until problems arose.
It’s impossible to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. McCloughan is an adult making football decisions for a multibillion-dollar team. The suggestion isn’t that Allen or anyone else in the front office should have held McCloughan’s hand or tried to turn the DMV into a dry region. But as I wrote in September 2015, after the silly incident between McCloughan’s wife, Jessica, and ESPN’s Dianna Russini on Twitter, the team needed to acknowledge that the GM’s personal life could derail this entire rebuilding effort.
The common question of “Is McCloughan drinking again?” was the wrong thing to wonder. He never stopped drinking. The team hired him knowing that. It was foolish to just look him in the eyes, ask a few tough questions during the interview, drop the issue and then hire him without having a crystallized approach to dealing with it.
Instead, the Face Palms — that’s the gesture you often make in reaction to this team’s ridiculous ways, so it might as well be their nickname — did the opposite. They continued with their office politics and backstabbing and knack for self-destruction. It’s an atmosphere that would drive most to drink.
That’s not to excuse McCloughan if he indeed did unprofessional things. But a proactive organization doesn’t hire a man with two strikes, sell him as fresh hope to the fan base and then leave him in isolation. The fact that McCloughan never got to hire anyone he trusts put him on an island. It would have been an easy way to start building a support system, but it didn’t matter to Allen.
And when all the sins of the GM and his inept team collided, Washington handled it by playing a long, mysterious game of “How do you want to exit?” The past few weeks have been about Washington letting McCloughan go without having to pay the final two years of his contract. And McCloughan, according to sources, was advised to get what he could, get out and present the image that he is healthy and ready to work. The battle over compensation may just be beginning.
The callous and vindictive way Washington extricated itself from McCloughan — by fostering innuendo and then revealing ugly details to justify the firing — was no way to erase a complicated problem that it enabled. It’s interesting to note that McCloughan left jobs in San Francisco and Seattle in a similar fashion, around draft time and with plenty of innuendo about what was really happening. Of the three times this has occurred, two of the teams declined to expose McCloughan’s alcohol problems, leaving it to the GM to admit instead. The other team, well, it takes perverse joy in devouring its own, doesn’t it?
Two years ago, after enduring public humiliation, Allen made the bold and well-received move to hire McCloughan. A week earlier, he had embarrassed himself during his infamous “Winning off the field” news conference, which included being forced to answer why Washington didn’t have a true GM like, you know, normal teams. Allen reacted by hiring McCloughan before the New York Jets could.
It made critics shut up for a while, but there was one problem: Allen didn’t have a viable plan for what to do next. He didn’t want to give up power. And he didn’t know how to offer support for McCloughan’s alcoholism. Next was bound to be a problem.
After an encouraging start, next turned out to be just as disastrous for Washington as all of its previous attempts at building a competent football team. Next turned out to be, perhaps, its biggest blunder in two decades of mismanagement.
There are no victims, and still, the wounds are abundant.