Ex-coach Steve Wilks testifies Cardinals leaders pushed burner phones

Aug 30, 2023, 2:05 PM | Updated: Aug 31, 2023, 9:50 am

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks confirmed an accusation from a former team executive that he was asked, “under order” from then-general manager Steve Keim and owner Michael Bidwill, to use a burner phone to speak with Keim during the executive’s suspension related to a DUI arrest in 2018, reports ESPN’s Tisha Thompson.

ESPN obtained a deposition transcript of Wilks’ testimony from Friday and published it Wednesday.

“As much as we would like to share the truth of what transpired, the confidentiality order in place prohibits us from doing so,” the Cardinals said in a statement to Arizona Sports’ Tyler Drake. “The only comment we are permitted to make is the following: The Arbitrator ruled that because we were denied an opportunity for cross-examination, on the current state of the record, the deposition testimony of Mr. Wilks is not admissible.”

Attorneys representing the accuser, former executive Terry McDonough, also told ESPN the deposition has not been admitted to the case’s official records and told ESPN they could not comment further.

According to ESPN, the Cardinals’ attorneys asked NFL-appointed arbitrator Jeffrey Mishkin to destroy Wilks’ testimony after the coach’s attorney did not allow a cross-examination of his client. Mishkin ruled Monday to keep Wilks’ transcript and taped deposition.

Wilks, who is the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, said in his deposition that others communicated with Keim over matters such as a contract negotiation with then-running back David Johnson.

The former Cardinals coach went through a videoconference related to an arbitration complaint filed by former Cardinals vice president of player personnel McDonough in April. That accused Bidwill of gross misconduct including cheating, discrimination and harassment, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The claim stated that McDonough and Wilks “were left no choice” but to follow Bidwill’s directive to use burner phones to communicate with Keim during his suspension.

Wilks’ testimony revealed by ESPN on Wednesday supported that:

Wilks testified that Bidwill initially ordered Wilks and others to have “no communication” with Keim following his guilty plea and suspension.

But Wilks said former Cardinals vice president of football administration Mike Disner gave him a burner phone sometime between July 18 and July 20. Wilks said Disner told him that the two of them, along with Keim, McDonough and Matt Caracciolo, the team’s vice president of football operations and facilities, received burner phones. He said Disner showed him how his phone had been preloaded with “everybody’s initials” and phone numbers. Bidwill himself used a burner phone to communicate with Keim, who had multiple burner phones, according to Wilks.

“With me being a first-year head coach, I felt uncomfortable from the beginning that I worked this hard to get to this plateau and this opportunity, and then I was presented with this situation with being unethical,” Wilks testified.

Wilks had one exchange with Keim, the coach said, after the general manager asked how practice was going.

Wilks was fired after the 3-13 season in 2018.

Keim remained with the team through 2022, when he stepped away from the team and ultimately departed due to health reasons.

In a statement external public relations adviser to the Cardinals Jim McCarthy sent to Arizona Sports after McDonough’s claim was made public in April, the team said the arbitration filings were “wildly false, reckless, and an opportunistic ploy for financial gain.”

“We are reluctantly obliged to provide a public response along with broader context for some disappointing and irresponsible actions by Terry McDonough,” McCarthy said.

“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,” the statement from McCarthy said. “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.”

Read the full statement, here.

Wilks’ testimony last week included witnessing incidents between Bidwill and McDonough.

Asked if he felt that Bidwill “bullied, belittled, and criticized” McDonough in a personnel meeting following the on-field incident, as alleged in the arbitration complaint, Wilks replied, “Yes.”

Wilks said Bidwill had also berated him multiple times, including a post-game incident that occurred in front of Wilks’ 9-year-old son. He was driving home with his son after a game and called Bidwill, he said. “As soon as he picked up, it was just cuss words and how embarrassed he was about the game and can’t really, you know, bring friends or take anybody in the box,” Wilks said, adding that his son later asked him, “Daddy, why is that guy talking to you like that?”

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