Another former Arizona Cardinals executive has corroborated portions of an arbitration claim filed by Terry McDonough, which accuses owner Michael Bidwill of harassing and bullying behavior, cheating and discrimination.
As detailed by ESPN, McDonough claims Bidwill wanted McDonough and coach Steve Wilks to use burner phones in 2018 to communicate with general manager Steve Keim, circumventing a five-week suspension by the NFL after the GM pleaded guilty to extreme DUI. McDonough, who was the team’s vice president of player personnel from 2014 through 2019, claims he and Wilks were forced to participate, despite their objections.
McDonough also alleges Bidwill not only created a culture of fear in the Cardinals' front office, but also discriminated against a Black employee and two pregnant women. ProFootballTalk on Tuesday released portions of a letter by former Cardinals COO Ron Minegar, corroborating portions of McDonough’s claims against Bidwill.
McDonough’s claim seeks damages for breach of contract and emotional distress. The Cardinals have 20 days to respond to the filing, at which point NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will determine whether the points raised by McDonough are football-oriented. He will also determine whether the dispute can be settled through arbitration.
Here’s everything you need to know about McDonough’s accusations against the Cardinals — from cheating to harassment and discrimination — as well as the responses by the NFL, Arizona and Minegar.
Accusations against Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, explained
McDonough’s filing claims he and Wilks were “objected to and sought to avoid participation in a scheme hatched by Bidwill to utilize burner phones to communicate with general manager Steve Keim. …”
The scheme, which purportedly took place during the Cardinals' training camp in summer of 2018, was a violation of the terms of Keim’s suspension by the NFL following his DUI. McDonough claims he and Wilks were forced into participating in the scheme, and that he still has the burner phone which provides evidence of Bidwill’s attempts at illicit communication.
McDonough claims his reluctance to participate in Bidwill’s scheme resulted in the owner cursing at, berating and formally reprimanding him by calling him to his office and writing him up for “insubordination.”
The former VP also claimed Bidwill demoted him as a direct result of his objection, “irrevocably damaging the trajectory of McDonough’s 34-year career in the National Football League.” He said other opportunities in the NFL “evaporated” after he elected not to go along with Bidwill’s attempt to cheat.
McDonough also said Bidwill’s “bullying, mocking, harassing and abusive behavior” was not directed only at him. The owner is purported to have created a workplace culture centered around fear among his employees, and that he even went so far as to cancel a 2019 employee engagement survey that indicated changes were needed.
Reads McDonough’s claim:
Many of the employees who responded to the survey indicated that they were fearful of Bidwill on a daily basis, as a result of Bidwill’s erratic and often abusive interactions with them.
The Cardinals rejected that notion in a response to ESPN, saying the 2019 survey “formed the basis for significant enhancements to our workplace practices.”
However, McDonough’s claims — as they relate to workplace culture — were corroborated on Tuesday by Minegar, as evidenced by a letter he hand-delivered to Bidwill in 2019 to discuss his resignation. PFT obtained the letter, which detailed several aspects of Minegar’s dissatisfaction with Bidwill’s demeanor.
Until recently, we didn’t really have a clue how our employees really feel about working here. Have we created an environment that eliminates barriers to success and motivates people to excellence? That changed when we got the first round of results from the employee engagement study.
Sadly, we learned that a majority of our employees are working in fear. There are several factors, but much of this was directed at you based on the poor interaction they’ve had with you. … What was your reaction when you saw the preliminary responses? Instead of leaning into it and trying to change things for the better, you shut the study down.
Minegar’s letter concluded with this:
“I am sad for you and worried about you. You deserve to be happy, but you are miserable. You know it. The people around you feel it daily and it impacts them more than you understand.”
McDonough claims Bidwill treated a Black employee and two pregnant women poorly while “creating an environment of fear for minority employees.” The filing claimed Bidwill at one point made the women — one five months pregnant, the other seven months — cry as a result of “abusive and bullying mistreatment.
The claim also noted Wilks joined the racial discrimination class action lawsuit against the NFL, filed by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores. In joining the suit vs. the league, Wilks alleged he was hired by Bidwill to serve as a “bridge coach” and “fall guy for failures that were largely attributable to Keim.”
Wilks also claimed he was not given proper opportunities to succeed amid a season in which Arizona went 3-13. He was fired after just one year on the job, with the Cardinals owning the top overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Arizona later hired Kliff Kingsbury as its next head coach before ultimately firing him after a four-year stint saw him go 28-37-1.
Wilks took over as the Panthers' interim coach in 2022 following the midseason firing of Matt Rhule. Carolina went 6-6 in 12 games under Wilks — evidence, McDonough claims, that his failings in Arizona were a result of poor management.
“Steve Wilks has demonstrated that he is a skilled NFL head coach when he is not forced to cheat and is given an opportunity to succeed,” the claim reads.
Response to McDonough’s allegations
Jim McCarthy, an external public relations adviser to the Cardinals, issued a statement to ESPN in response to McDonough’s claims:
We are reluctantly obliged to provide a public response along with broader context for some disappointing and irresponsible actions by Terry McDonough. Claims he has made in an arbitration filing are wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain.
Our position was consistent with many efforts we’ve made to accommodate Terry during his time with the team, despite difficulties in his personal life and his often volatile demeanor toward colleagues. That’s why we are saddened to see that Terry is now lashing out at our organization with disparagements and threats that are absurdly at odds with the facts. This unnecessary and vindictive action by Terry was intended to malign his co-workers, our owner Michael Bidwill, and our team with outlandish accusations.
The organization did concede that an unnamed executive “interfered with the protocol of (Keim’s) suspension,” but that Bidwill took “swift action” once said interference was discovered. The Cardinals claim he directed the burner phones to be retrieved and “communications stopped.”
Arizona also issued a statement to PFT, claiming the contents of Minegar’s 2019 letter were later retracted in 2022:
“The concerns you are describing from Mr. Minegar were later characterized by Mr. Minegar himself as misguided and were pulled back in a note of apology that he volunteered to our team’s owner,” McCarthy told PFT. “In that subsequent September 2022 note expressing regret Mr. Minegar wrote, ‘I’m way overdue … to express my sincere apologies for my attitude and behavior the last several years we worked together.’
“He continued, ‘I am starting to understand what an angry, bitter man I had become. I sincerely regret how my actions and attitude impacted our relationship.’ The note continued that he had come to ‘realize how misguided I was’ and that ‘I am proud of the work we did together.'”
Minegar issued a statement to PFT in direct response to the Cardinals' claim he walked back statements to Bidwill. The former COO said he was disappointed his letter was used in McDonough and the Cardinals' dispute, but that he never retracted comments he made to Bidwill in 2019.
This is blatantly false and must be interpreted as an attempt to deflect criticism. I stand by the statements I made in my December 2019 letter and am willing to discuss with the involved parties as part of the NFL’s Arbitration Process.
Minegar also told PFT he and Bidwill had not spoken for years until the Cardinals owner reached out to discuss the dispute between the team and McDonough. Bidwill purportedly told Minegar a portion of his letter was used in the filing; he also asked whether the team could use snippets of a September 2022 email, which Minegar sent to Bidwill congratulating the team for honoring McDonough’s father, famed Boston Globe reporter Will McDonough.
“I also took the opportunity to apologize for my role in the deterioration of our relationship over the last several years of my employment,” Minegar said. “I wrote this very private note to Michael to ‘Make Amends’ as part of my program of sobriety which I have undertaken for the past 1000-plus days.
“I told Michael that I would consider his request, but I would want the entire note to be utilized as opposed to just selecting snippets. I also requested that my entire resignation letter be used instead of just one page to provide proper context. Unfortunately, they opted to pick and choose segments of the letter in an attempt to put their position in a favorable light.”
The NFL said only that it had received McDonough’s claim, saying in a statement, “We can confirm receipt of the claim which will be handled under the league’s arbitration procedures.”