Oh, I know I’m gonna ruffle some feathers with this one.
Here’s my question; Was Jack Kent Cooke really the genius we believe him to be, or did he just have the right cogs fall into place?
It’s easy to hate Dan Snyder. The team is losing, it always seems like it’s the same ol’ thing every year. We can only hope to achieve mediocrity and we just can’t seem to reclaim the glory years of the franchise.
So, we look back to Jack Kent Cooke and draw him as the comparison for what the Redskins’ owner should be. A man who loved his fans; a man who loved his team; a man who loved to win.
The Washington Post, who has really made no secret of their dislike for Snyder, recently published an interview with John Cooke, Jack Kent Cooke’s son . While the article was obviously meant to feed into the despair that Redskins’ fans are feeling right now, it unintentionally sheds some light on Jack Kent Cooke’s near miss with disaster.
Referring to the 12-years of greatness, where the Redskins appeared in four super bowls, and won three with Joe Gibbs as the head coach, John Cooke had this to share with the Washington Post:
“That extended period of revelry almost did not happen — or at least would not have included Gibbs — if not for what [John] Cooke said was his own intervention with his father, who was prepared to fire Gibbs after the team’s terrible start in the coach’s rookie year and replace him with legendary Redskins coach George Allen. As Jack Kent Cooke rode home after the Redskins fell to 0-5 in October 1981, he turned to his son, the team president, and said he was going to make a change. He said he’d summon Gibbs and Bobby Beathard, the general manager, to deliver the news.”
Bobby Beathard, legendary Redskins General Manager for those years believes that if Gibbs had been fired, he would have been also as he was the person who sold Cooke on the idea of hiring Gibbs.
“[Cooke] had stopped talking to me about what he was going to do,” Beathard said. “I could have been on my way out, too. So I definitely believe that Mr. Cooke was thinking about bringing back George Allen then. [It] made perfect sense to him.”
Many credit Jack Kent Cooke for not “meddling” with the team, but once Joe Gibbs had established himself as a winning head coach combined with what Charlie Casserly and Bobby Beathard brought to the team, did he really need to? This was a different age for the NFL. There was no such animal as free agency. Teams couldn’t lure away your star players with the promise of a better offer, and once a team starts winning, why would anybody want to leave?
Another item to consider when discussing Jack Kent Cooke’s decision making is what happened after Joe Gibbs retired. Most fans remember it as a transition from Gibbs to Norv Turner and forget the 4-12 season under Richie Petitbon, or the 3-13 season that followed when Turner was hired a year later.
Furthermore, many fans seem to forget the controversial decision to move the Redskins out of Washington DC and into Landover, MD. A common complaint among Redskins fans is the remote location of the stadium with roads ill suited for stadium traffic and limited local transportation and parking options.
These problems are often attributed to current Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, but in reality it was Cooke’s decision to move the team, even attempting (unsuccessfully) to have the post office recognize the team’s official address as “Raljon, MD” instead of Landover, MD. Cooke’s ambition was to build a stadium large enough to host a Super Bowl, but it wasn’t until after the stadium was built that the league decided to only host Super Bowls in domed stadiums, or cities with warmer climates.
In the Washington Post article, John Cooke claims that his father wanted the team to be put up for bid so that the maximum amount of money would be able to go to the Jack Kent Cooke Charitable Foundation. Certainly, Jack Kent Cooke realized that he was setting the team out on the open market in doing so. Many argue now whether it was simply a lack of careful planning on Cooke’s part, or whether Jack Kent Cooke had little confidence in his son’s abilities to properly run the team.
Sonny Jurgensen, the Hall of Fame quarterback who now broadcasts the team’s games, said: “John is a good man. But if his dad thought he was capable of running the franchise, I think he would have given it to him. They could have taken care of the charitable trust when John sold the team.”
After Cooke’s passing in 1997, his son John did take over operations of the Redskins on an interim basis for the 1997 and 1998 seasons. During that time the Redskins went 14-17-1.
This isn’t meant to denigrate Jack Kent Cooke, but to remind fans that when comparing Cooke to Snyder, they should remember the teams were from two different eras. The Redskins’ drop in fortunes not only coincides with the retirement of Joe Gibbs, but the beginning of Free Agency in the NFL. After Gibbs retired, the team went 36-59-1 while still under management of the Cooke family. That’s a 0.375 win percentage.
To show how bad that is; Snyder has gone 66-78 (not including the ’99 and current seasons). That’s a 0.458 win percentage.
John Cooke claims Norv Turner was the future of the Redskins organization, and implies that if he had been able to purchase the team; Turner would have been his guy. Obviously, this comes from the 10-6 finish Turner had in 1999 that was good enough to win the NFC East. Many like to believe that Turner would have gone 10-6 again in 2000 if only he hadn’t been fired by Snyder.
Turner’s six losses in 2000 came against Detroit (9-7), Dallas (5-11), Tennessee (13-3), Arizona (3-13), Philadelphia (11-5), and New York (12-4). Now obviously, you can see by the records of New York and Philly that even 10-6 would have placed the Redskins at third in the NFC East. Turner’s next three opponents were Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Arizona; two of which had already beaten him once that year.
Turner went on to coach Oakland where he went 9-23 in two years, and currently is coaching San Diego. The team he inherited in San Diego went 14-2 the year before he took over. They have since gone 11-5, 8-8 and are currently 2-3.
The future may not look all that bright for the Redskins right now, but maybe ol’ Jack knew what he was doing by not leaving the team to his son. Maybe he thought John would be too “hands-off” in his approach; not wanting to disrupt anything his father had put together and in doing so would simply let the team fall apart. Who knows? That’s the real question.
A question that may never be answered.