NFL: Broncos, coach fined for taping of 49ers’ practice
AP Pro Football Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The NFL fined the Denver Broncos and coach Josh McDaniels $50,000 each because the team’s video operations director filmed a San Francisco 49ers practice in London last month, breaking league rules.
The NFL investigation determined Steve Scarnecchia took a six-minute video of the walkthrough and presented it that day to McDaniels. The coach declined to view it. Still, the NFL fined both the coach and team because the matter was not promptly reported, as required by the league.
Scarnecchia was also involved in the NFL’s last videotaping scandal, dubbed Spygate. After the Patriots were caught videotaping New York Jets coaches sending in signals during a 2007 game, the league’s investigation determined New England had violated rules over several seasons. Scarnecchia, who had left the Patriots by the time they were caught, was found to have taken part in the videotaping when he worked for the team in the early 2000s.
Scarnecchia was fired by the Broncos and was notified by Commissioner Roger Goodell that, as a repeat violator of league rules regarding the integrity of the game, he faced a hearing to determine if he would be banned from the NFL.
“We certainly did not view or do anything with the footage, and he was made aware that it was something we didn’t condone in our organization,” McDaniels said Saturday. “I failed to follow through and report it to the proper individuals in our organization and with the league.”
Asked why he failed to report the incident immediately, McDaniels said: “I made a mistake. I made a mistake and I should have done that right away. We felt we handled it the right way by not doing anything with that but I did not follow through with it.”
McDaniels also worked for New England, but NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash said there was no evidence he was involved with the videotaping there.
The Broncos didn’t report this latest incident to the NFL for nearly two weeks, and Scarnecchia remained involved with the team until mid-November. Two hours before the league announced the results of its investigation Saturday, the team said Scarnecchia was on a leave of absence. Later, it said he’d been fired.
A call to a listing for Scarnecchia went to a voice message that said the mailbox was full.
McDaniels, who worked in New England from 2001-09, hired Scarnecchia in Denver shortly after he became the Broncos’ coach 22 months ago.
“When we hired Steve, it was with the understanding that he would come here and do good work,” McDaniels said. “In no way did we think this situation or type of situation would come up and be an issue for us or for him.”
Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis said that when Scarnecchia was hired, the team was aware he had been involved in Spygate, but not of the specifics.
“He knew full well what was expected from him in terms of the types of behavior we would expect out of him,” Ellis said on a conference call.
The videotaping occurred during practices at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 30, the day before the 49ers’ 24-16 win over the Broncos. It was the only time the teams worked out on the same field in London.
Ellis said the Broncos promptly notified the NFL after their executives learned of the violation. He declined to reveal how they became aware.
“The Denver Broncos, their ownership, and their executives had their moral compass pointed in the right direction,” Pash said.
He added: “I think they’ve set an example as to how incidents of this type are properly handled.”
The NFL determined Broncos executives were told about the videotaping Nov. 8, and told the league about it four days later after an internal review. On Nov. 16, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, Ellis and team general counsel Rich Slivka met with league officials in New York.
After that meeting, NFL security began its investigation, which included interviews of Broncos personnel and an analysis of laptop computers used by the team’s video department. It was confirmed the 49ers’ practice had been recorded, and the league retained that tape.
“This incident cuts into the trust and respect our fans, our ticket holders, our community and our fellow competitors have for our organization. … We will take all steps to ensure that an incident like this never occurs again,” Bowlen said in a statement.
Scarnecchia acknowledged to NFL investigators he taped the walkthrough, according to excerpts from a letter Goodell sent to Bowlen.
The letter stated that Scarnecchia maintained that he had not previously recorded a walkthrough or other practice or “engaged in any other improper videotaping (such as recording coaching signals of an opposing team) since joining the Broncos.”
The letter also said Scarnecchia “knew that what he did in London was wrong,” that taping the walkthrough was his decision alone and nobody instructed him to record the practice.
In addition, the investigation found that when Scarnecchia offered to show the tape to McDaniels, the coach replied, “No, I’m not doing that.” Scarnecchia said he didn’t show the tape to any other staff member.
Goodell’s letter to Bowlen said that McDaniels was interviewed “under circumstances that would have made it impossible for him to have spoken to Mr. Scarnecchia in advance” and that McDaniels’ recollection of events matched Scarnecchia’s.
“Although I find no fault with the way the club handled this matter once you and your executives became aware of it, I nonetheless believe that some penalty must be imposed,” Goodell wrote. “We have no more important responsibility than preserving the integrity and competitive fairness of the game and avoiding any implication that games are decided by anything other than what takes place on the field.”
The letter added: “This appears to be a single incident by an employee who acted entirely on his own.”
McDaniels should have immediately notified team executives of what happened, however, the commissioner wrote. Goodell cited a policy in which team executives, head coaches and others are obliged to promptly report violations tied to the integrity of the game. Pash said that as a coordinator and head coach, McDaniels would have been required to file a report with the league at the end of each season that acknowledged the policy.
The league issued a much sterner punishment against the Patriots after Spygate. It included imposing $750,000 in fines against the team and coach Bill Belichick, and stripping New England of its 2008 first-round draft pick for what were found to be repeated violations.
This is the latest embarrassment for a Broncos team that is 3-7 and has lost 15 of 20 for the first time since 1971-72. The Broncos, who face St. Louis at Invesco Field on Sunday, were routed 59-14 by archrival Oakland last month in what many consider the worst home loss in the team’s 51-year history.
Ellis said McDaniels made a mistake, but it wasn’t a fireable offense.
“We’re disappointed with the season as it’s gone thus far, but we have six games left to play,” he said. “This particular incident that one employee took advantage of does not sway Mr. Bowlen’s feelings about Josh one way or the other.”
Ellis said Broncos officials had contacted their counterparts in San Francisco. The 49ers released a statement saying the team had no comment.
“I don’t really care about that stuff, seriously,” coach Mike Singletary told reporters. “It didn’t affect us, let’s just move on.”
AP Sports Writers Rachel Cohen in New York and Janie McCauley in San Francisco and AP freelancer Dennis Georgatos in Englewood contributed to this report.