ESPN's "Outside the Lines" reports that New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, who will begin serving an eight-game suspension for his role in the team's bounty program, had an illegal eavesdropping device that allowed him to listen to real-time playcalls of opposing coaches during the 2002-2004 seasons.
The Saints denied the report. "This is 1,000 percent false," said Greg Bensel, Saints vice president of communications. "This is 1,000 percent inaccurate."
In an e-mail to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports and the NFL Network, Loomis denied the allegations directly.
"This report on ESPN is absolutely false," Loomis wrote. "I have a monitor in front of me in my booth that provides the league-issued stats for the game. I have a small tv with the network broadcast and I have an earpiece to listen to the WWL-AM radio (flagship broadcaster) game broadcast.
To think I am sitting in there listening and actually and or doing something with the offensive and defensive play calls of the opposing teams makes this story and the unnamed sources that provided the false information that much more less credible…it just didn't happen."
Any such practice would have violated NFL rules and state and federal laws. There's a statute of limitations for any potential criminal charges, but civil cases and league action may arise.
John Barr writes in the blockbuster report:
Sources told "Outside the Lines" the listening device was first installed in the general manager's suite in 2000, when Loomis' predecessor, Randy Mueller, served as Saints GM. At that time, according to sources, Mueller only had the ability to use the device to monitor the game-day communications of the Saints coaching staff, not the opposing coaches. Mueller, now a senior executive with the San Diego Chargers (he also was an ESPN.com NFL analyst from 2002-05), declined to comment when contacted by "Outside the Lines."
After the transition from Mueller to Loomis, the electronic device was re-wired to listen only to opposing coaches and could no longer be used to listen to any game-day communications between members of the Saints coaching staff, one source said.
"There was a switch, and the switch accessed offense and defense," said the source. "When Randy was there, it was the Saints offense or defense, and when Mickey was there it changed over so it was the visiting offense or defense," the source said.
It's too early to realistically discuss any sort of league punishment. The NFL was only recently made aware of the allegations and nothing has been proved or disproved in the 72 hours since the U.S. Attorney's office became involved.
However, if there's a hunt of truth to this, Loomis' eavesdropping would make Bill Belichick's Spygate controversy seem quaint, like the Pats coach was a kid with two cans and some string. His tapes showed hand signals being made in full view of fans and cameras. They were illegal because the NFL said so. Loomis' actions would be illegal because the US government says so.
The wiretap didn't seem to help the Saints in those three seasons. The team was a mediocre 12-12 at home while Loomis had access to his alleged bug. Drew Brees, and playoff success, didn't come until later. Not that it matters. The lack of success of an operation has no bearing on its illegality.
For now, these are just allegations, and shaky ones, at best. If it's true, Mickey Loomis shouldn't expect to come back eight games into the 2012 season. He'll be lucky if he returns to his job at all.
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