Feb 22, 2005, 5:24 AM EDT
Washington Post Redskins beat reporter Nunyo Demasio found himself in the center of a storm today after his story that the Redskins were on the verge of releasing receiver Laveranues Coles was published in the paper and widely reported around the nation. Joe Gibbs issued a flat denial of the story later in the day. In an exclusive interview with The Blog, he told us how the story developed:
“It started late last season. I heard from a player that Coles had asked to be traded during the season. And then, as the season came to an end, Gibbs let it be known that anyone who did not want to be a Redskin next season should come and talk to him and he would do his best to accommodate the request. Coles and (Rod) Gardner were the only ones to take him up on that.”
In the past several weeks, Demasio also called several players, all of whom confirmed that Coles was unhappy with Gibbs’ offense. In fact, some of them even brought up the topic of Coles’ discontent without being asked by the writer.
As it became clear that there was a story here, Demasio spoke to Gibbs last Wednesday as he was on his way out of Redskins Park to go to Daytona to see his NASCAR team compete. At the time, the reporter did not yet have the release story, only one that Coles was unhappy and might not want to come back. It was then that Gibbs said,
“We (Coles and Gibbs) had a couple of good talks. That’s the only statement I want to make. Me and Laveranues talked, and we have a good understanding.”
At the time, Demasio did not realize that the story was going to progress. Over the weekend, however, he “called a whole lot of people”, multiple sources from “inside the building (Redskins Park), people who know me and trust me and know that I’m a fair reporter” told Demasio that Coles would be released. In order to make this work, according to one of Demasio’s sources, Coles would pay back some of the $13 million singing bonus the Redskins paid him in 2003. Sources from people with Coles’ camp had essentially the same story, so the Post decided to go with the report.
“If I was just trying to stir up controversy,” Demasio said, “I could have written in the middle of last season that Coles was so unhappy with the offense that he had requested a trade. That was true and it would have been a big story, but I didn’t want to stir things up just for the sake of doing so.”
Demasio said that while he was developing this report over the past few days he tried to call Coles agent “100 times. After not getting a call back I talked to him today after the story came out. He was quite irate that this had gotten out, but he didn’t deny it. After I said that the story was accurate, he said ‘That’s not the point!’ and hung up on me.
At one point in the past few days, Demasio was considering going with a more generic story that Coles was unhappy and that it was unlikely that he would be back with the team next season. It was then that the sources both inside and outside of Redskins Park started to confirm the story of Coles’ pending release and bonus payback agreement. Demasio and his editor decided to go with the story that appeared Monday morning.
Demasio said that it now seems possible that the Redskins would trade Coles rather than release him (as he wrote in a Post article that will appear Tuesday). The scenario would be to get Coles to agree to a restructured contract with a new team and repay some of his signing bonus with the proceeds of the new deal. That gets into some very muddled territory as far as the cap goes. Demasio talked to an NFL general manager today and even he did not know what the cap rules where when it came to situations such as that one.
Such a scenario may render the “semantics of my story” incorrect, said Demasio, but “the bottom line is the Coles will not be a Redskin in 2005. I’m comfortable with what I wrote. I’m a skeptical reporter and I checked this one out as thoroughly as I’ve ever checked anything out.”
In regards to Gibbs’ denial today, Demasio said that Gibbs “is an honorable man” and he had no problem with the coach saying what he did today nor did Gibbs have a problem personally with the reporter for going with the story.
In answer to a final question, Demasio reiterated that his sources for this story included multiple people who work at Redskins Park who knew him and trusted that he would write a fair story. When asked to give some hint as to who they were, the reporter refused, saying that “These are people who would be fired if the team knew that they were talking to me.” He also added that these multiple sources all said the same thing, that Coles would be released.
There it is from the reporter. To steal a line from another news organization, you decide.
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