Michael Bidwell has always been one of the NFL’s most hated owners, but still managed to fly under the radar thanks to Dan Snyder dominating the conversation. Now, with the impending sale of the Washington Commanders, it’s harder for the Arizona Cardinals owner to be ignored, and a major fire was lit under him on Tuesday when former executive Terry McDonough alleged Bidwell had a history of serious misconduct,
McDonough is seeking NFL arbitration and alleges that Bidwell not only discriminated against minority employees and women, but staged a scheme to cheat ahead of the 2018 season. McDonough believes his criticism of the plan led to his demotion and his career irretrievably damaged.
What are these cheating allegations exactly?
On July 4, 2018, former Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was cited for driving under the influence, registering a blood alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit. Keim pleaded guilty to the charges and, as a result, he was fined $200,000 by the team and given a five-week suspension, which began July 17 of that year.
The decision to suspend Keim came from the Cardinals’ management itself. At the time, it was widely believed that the team had decided to try and come before the charges, rather than wait to see if the NFL would intervene. This allowed Bidwell and the Cardinals brass to call their own shots on the suspension, rather than risk losing their general manager for a greater amount of time.
McDonough alleges that Bidwell couldn’t handle his GM being away from the team in the weeks leading up to training camp, so he came up with a plan. Bidwell demanded that both McDonough and then-head coach Steve Wilks use burner phones to continue communicating with Keim during his suspension. McDonough claims neither he nor Wilks wanted to participate in the scheme – but in voicing their disagreement, Bidwell berated them, urging them to use the phones and wrote McDonough off for insubordination.
This is the core of McDonough’s claims, and why he is seeking NFL arbitration.
“In response to McDonough’s objection to the illicit burner phone scheme, Bidwill cursed, berated and officially reprimanded McDonough, and ultimately demoted him – irrevocably damaging the trajectory of McDonough’s 34-year National League career. Bidwill also subjected McDonough to bullying, mocking, harassing and abusive behavior.
The Cardinals responded with a series of statements outlining the allegations against McDonough. In part, they claim that not only was the burner phone story not Bidwell’s idea, but that the owner himself it was he who put an end to it.
“While one of our former executives was serving a team-imposed suspension for misconduct unrelated to the organization, we took additional action when we learned that another executive had interfered with the protocol of this suspension. . This second incident involved obtaining cell phones to communicate during the period of suspension. Mr. Bidwill acted quickly when he learned of this situation and ordered that the phones be retrieved and communications terminated. Terry was unaware of the full sequence of these circumstances, but nevertheless framed the situation as a vast conspiracy to undermine him personally.
There is more to claims in arbitration, however.
McDonough also alleges discrimination and abuse by Bidwell
Part of McDonough’s claims describe the unfair treatment of Steve Wilks after the 2018 season. Wilks, one of the most sought-after head coaches at the time, left his position as defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers for an of head coach. Wilks signed a multi-year contract to coach the Cardinals, but McDonough alleges Bidwell “sabotaged” Wilks’ first season as head coach, before firing Wilks and replacing him with Kliff Kingsbury.
This is noteworthy, as it more or less lines up with what Wilks alleged in his lawsuit against the NFL alongside Brian Flores – who both say they were discriminated against by not being offered real opportunities as a head coaches. Wilks in particular believes he was used as a “bridge coach” with the intention of being a “drop boy” for Keim’s failures as general manager.
McDonough claims Bidwell was regularly abusive to employees and staff, making them “fearful” of the owner. Additionally, when an internal job satisfaction survey was conducted, McDonough says Bidwell intercepted the results to ensure that criticism of him as an owner did not go public. Additionally, the arbitration claim alleges that Bidwell routinely harassed employees.
The grievance also said Bidwill reduced two pregnant women to tears – one five months pregnant, the other seven months – after yelling at them with “abusive and intimidating abuse”.
The Cardinals also deny these claims, making their own allegations against McDonough saying he was routinely insubordinate and his view of the situation was entirely subjective and incorrect.
“Contrary to Terry’s assertion, the 2019 employee survey referenced in the complaint was not ignored, but in fact formed the basis for significant improvements to our workplace practices. This included the creating a new role for a Director of Human Resources as well as strengthening our Human Resources staff and adding strong employee wellness initiatives.
The bulk of the other complaints made by Terry amount to his entirely subjective view that he was verbally abused and professionally thwarted by the management of our team. But this assertion runs counter to numerous documented instances, over several years, in which Terry gave unsolicited praise to Mr. Bidwill, particularly for the tremendous support and encouragement Terry had received, especially during times difficulties in his personal life. Our leadership also repeatedly encouraged and facilitated Terry’s desire to continue his career advancement.
It might not be fair he-said-they-said, though
Normally in situations like this it is very difficult to determine the truth, but McDonough claims he has receipts. Not only does his filed grievance allege that he has the full text message history of his interactions with Bidwell via the burner phone system, but also that he is in possession of the 2019 employee surveys which note that Bidwell has had a negative impact on the workplace and that a wide variety of employees were afraid of him. Additionally, McDonough cited Robert Sarver, the disgraced former owner of the Phoenix Suns, who sold the team and was fined $10 million by the NBA for racial and gender discrimination.
The grievance that McDonough submitted to Bidwill’s attorney last week and Goodell on Tuesday alleged that “Bidwill’s widespread misconduct in the workplace is far worse than the misconduct of the former owner of the Crosstown Phoenix Suns, Robert Sarver,” whom the NBA suspended for a year and fined $10 million before ultimately selling the franchise.
Representatives for Bidwell say every allegation McDonough makes is false, and they will prove in arbitration that his version of events is fabricated.