After weeks of speculation, the Washington Redskins fired general manager Scot McCloughan on Thursday, a little more than two years into a four-year contract.
The decision was announced by team President Bruce Allen, who said the Redskins wished McCloughan “well in his future endeavors. The team will have no further comment on his departure.”
An official with direct knowledge of the situation attributed the decision to McCloughan’s ongoing problems with alcohol, which also led to his firing from front-office positions with the San Francisco 49ers in 2010 and Seattle Seahawks in 2014.
“He’s had multiple relapses due to alcohol,” said the official, who spoke on a condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on personnel matters. “He showed up in the locker room drunk on multiple occasions. . . . This has been a disaster for 18 months.”
McCloughan, the official said, has received alcohol treatment since joining the franchise in January 2015, but he hasn’t actively worked for the team in weeks. Even before McCloughan left Redskins Park abruptly late last month, the official said, he already had been placed in “timeout” because of his behavior.
“He didn’t make the best of his third chance in the NFL,” the official said, alluding to the two previous jobs McCloughan has lost for alcohol abuse.
Neither McCloughan nor his agent, Peter Schaffer, could immediately be reached for comment. Late Thursday night, McCloughan’s wife, Jessica, tweeted: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence & making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
McCloughan has not been shy about acknowledging his past problems with alcohol and has said publicly that he was able to drink and perform his job.
The remarks linking McCloughan’s drinking and his job performance were not the first in recent weeks by someone affiliated with the Redskins. Former tight end Chris Cooley, who is employed by the Redskins-owned sports radio station, said on the air Feb. 14 that alcohol may help explain the general manager’s absence. Three individuals involved with the team told The Washington Post on Wednesday that McCloughan was incensed by the team’s failure to come to his defense following Cooley’s remarks or to reprimand Cooley.
The timing could not be worse for the Redskins, coming on the opening day of NFL free agency, when teams around the league can start signing veteran players to upgrade their rosters.
McCloughan’s ouster leaves Daniel Snyder searching for what will be the fifth general manager of his 18-year tenure as Redskins owner.
The team last week granted Snyder’s eighth head coach, Jay Gruden, a two-year contract extension in a move intended to signal stability as it sought to negotiate a long-term contract with quarterback Kirk Cousins and attract free agents.
By the close of business Thursday, the Redskins had lost their top two wide receivers — Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson — to other teams. Earlier Thursday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Cousins recently had personally asked Snyder for a trade.
Adding to the Cousins uncertainty is the departure of offensive coordinator Sean McVay, regarded as an integral component to the team’s high-powered offense last season. McVay was named coach of the Los Angeles Rams. The Redskins also will start the 2017 season with a new defensive coordinator.
Yet the timing of McCloughan’s firing mirrors a pattern, coming at the most stressful, intense period of the NFL offseason — between February’s NFL Scouting Combine and April’s NFL draft — when general managers around the league forge their reputation as shrewd evaluators of talent. That’s the same window in which McCloughan was relieved of his duties with the 49ers in 2010. Four years later, he lost his job as a senior personnel executive with the Seahawks for what he later acknowledged was alcohol abuse.
McCloughan’s ouster leaves the Redskins with limited options for directing their roster-building strategy. NFL tampering rules prohibit them from wooing away any currently employed general manager. In the interim, it appears, Redskins President Bruce Allen will oversee decisions on free agency and the draft.
McCloughan’s firing represents a significant, high-profile defeat in what from the start was a high-risk move by the Redskins, given McCloughan’s acknowledged difficulty with alcohol.
With Allen vouching for McCloughan’s character and expertise, Snyder signed him to a four-year deal despite McCloughan’s well-known demons with alcohol. It was a risk — a leap of faith — that Snyder was willing to take to restore the Redskins to winning ways.
Because he is being fired for cause — rather than for philosophical differences or as the result of an internal power struggle — the Redskins likely won’t have to pay McCloughan for the remaining 22 months of his contract. It’s unclear what McCloughan’s salary is, but veteran NFL presidents and general managers typically earn in the $3 million range, plus bonuses for postseason performances.
While there were indications McCloughan had been drinking as the 2016 season unfolded, there was no outward sign it was interfering with his job performance — at least not to many players and co-workers who dealt with him daily. Moreover, McCloughan had never claimed to have stopped drinking entirely; he maintained that he could have an occasional beer without triggering a relapse, characterizing himself as someone who had abused alcohol in the past but was not an alcoholic.
In the view of many players and people who dealt with him almost daily, if McCloughan had an alcohol dependence, he appeared to be what’s often referred to as “a functioning alcoholic.”
Of a half-dozen Redskins players reached Thursday afternoon, none said they had ever seen McCloughan drink in the locker room. All but one said they never saw him act as if he weren’t composed and in control. They added that they never felt he wasn’t able to do his job, and they seemed surprised the question was being raised.
“I don’t know what their issue is with him,” one player said, “but all the players love Scot.”
Another player, however, characterized McCloughan as frequently drunk but never thought much about it because his behavior and comportment never changed.
The portrait the team official painted Thursday was starkly different — that of an employee whose dependency impaired his ability to function on the job and who failed to respond to multiple attempts at recovery.
“He’s been drunk at work,” the team official said. “He’s been drunk at games.”
It also was a portrait that made no reference to the strained relationship between Allen and McCloughan that grew more pronounced as the season unfolded, highlighted by disagreements on personnel decisions, what appeared to be professional jealousy and at least one profane rebuke. According to three people familiar with the situation, McCloughan was banned from speaking to reporters in January. The rift became a topic of national speculation when McCloughan didn’t join the Redskins’ delegation at the scouting combine, an essential week-long gathering at which NFL scouts evaluate the 300-plus top college prospects.
And it presents a narrative in which the Redskins extended McCloughan multiple opportunities at rehabilitation, without result, before giving up on the relationship.
If McCloughan has participated in several treatment programs during his Redskins employment, it’s not clear when that would have occurred because he had no extended absences from the squad. He never missed a game, was a consistent presence at spring practices, summer minicamps and August training camps.
McCloughan’s ouster brings an abrupt end to what, for a time, was a promising resurgence by the three-time Super Bowl champion Redskins.
The son of a veteran NFL scout, McCloughan, 46, was hired by the Redskins in January 2015, tasked with turning around a team that had finished last in the NFC East in six of the seven previous season. McCloughan’s track record was impressive. His philosophy of building through the draft, rather than high-priced free agents, was clear, systematic and had proved to be effective in Green Bay, where he learned the scouting trade under then-general manager Ron Wolf.
Redskins fans embraced the move, seeing in McCloughan precisely the sort of proven, single-minded NFL talent-evaluator that their team needed. After evaluating the roster he inherited and analyzing its strengths and weaknesses, McCloughan pooled his clout with that of Gruden to persuade Snyder and Allen to bench quarterback Robert Griffin III, their prize acquisition in the 2012 NFL draft, in favor of Cousins, a third-year backup.
Cousins went on to lead the Redskins to the NFC East championship in McCloughan’s first season. And it seemed, at the time, that the future for football Sundays in Washington would be bright for years to come.