JACK KENT COOKE, THE SQUIRE (Majority/Sole Owner, 1980-1996)
Cooke was actually the majority owner from 1974 on, but his ownership of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angles Kings prevented him from acting as owner. Then he got divorced in the late ‘70s, sold off his Los Angeles teams, and moved east, where he would lead the Washington Football Team to glory.
Cooke was as iron-willed and egotistical as the two men who preceded him. Maybe more so. But he understood one fundamental fact better than they did (and better than the man who would eventually succeed him). Jack Kent Cooke knew what he didn’t know.
He was an extremely successful entrepreneur. But in the highly specialized world of professional sport, he recognized that others had more expertise. This probably came about because he had owned professional sports teams prior to owning a football team. Bobby Beathard was already in place. Joe Gibbs was about to arrive. Jack Kent Cooke was smart enough to write the necessary checks, and then sit back and let the professionals do their jobs.
Beathard and Gibbs agreed that the Squire only stepped in when the coach and GM couldn’t agree on something. Then the owner would settle the dispute. The results were obvious. Three Super Bowls. Green, Grimm, Monk and the Diesel to the Hall of Fame. Along with the coach. The Hogs. A new rivalry with the Giants. Success through strikes. Success in the draft. Success with free agents. Success after success after success.
Of course, it had to end. And it didn’t end pretty. It rarely does. Mr. Cooke’s plans late in his life would not work out how he intended. The first blow came when Coach Gibbs suddenly called it quits just one season after winning his third Super Bowl. Gibbs was worn out and even the Squire could not convince him to stay on.
He did not live to see the other two disappointments. Cooke desperately wanted a new state-of-the-art stadium. The beloved RFK was, by the mid-‘90s, the smallest venue in the league. And it was falling down. Cooke invested a great deal of time and effort into building the current stadium. Despite his efforts, the fans never warmed to it, and it will most likely come and go never having carved its place into the public’s heart. Cooke died before it was completed so he never saw the finished product.
And then there was the awkward matter of transition. Cooke’s son, John Kent Cooke, seemed destined to take over after his father’s death, but Jack’s will made that difficult. It left the franchise in the hands of trustees who were instructed to sell it to the strongest bidder. John Kent Cooke initially appeared to be in position to complete the purchase, but eventually, he would lose out.
Before he did, there was a group of executors who actually served as de facto ownership for two years…