INDIANAPOLIS: Connor Cook was ready for the onslaught.
The Michigan State quarterback from Walsh Jesuit addressed multiple misconceptions about him when he stepped in front of the national media Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
The questions came in rapid-fire fashion, and Cook did his best to swat them away.
Why did you skip the Senior Bowl?
Why weren’t you a captain last season at Michigan State?
Why did you diss two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin when he presented you the MVP trophy at the Big Ten Championship Game?
Cook was smooth, prepared and confident. He handled the session well. His explanations — including the fact he was chosen as a game captain four times last season instead of the usual once per campaign — seemed totally plausible.
Except for one.
Cook’s disrespect for Griffin after Michigan State defeated Iowa to earn a berth in the College Football Playoffs still bothers me. After hearing his version of what happened, and the fact that he called Griffin to apologize, I watched the video clip of the post-game ceremony a dozen times.
The supposed arrogance that causes some to wonder what kind of leader Cook will be as a professional seemed there for all to see. Griffin congratulated Cook and offered his hand to shake, but Cook took the trophy and slipped past the former Ohio State great without looking at him.
If I worked for an NFL team, I’d be more concerned about how Cook handled that moment than the captaincy issue.
“I think that kind of got blown out of proportion,” Cook said. “I was excited. I was a little nervous. I didn’t think I deserved the MVP. I was thinking about what I was going to say once I got to the microphone, wanting to give it to my offensive line just for the way that they played throughout the entire game, especially the last drive. It just happened real quick, I didn’t think anything of it.”
It wasn’t until Cook checked his phone and saw the Twitter tags and the anger the 140-character messages carried that he realized the gravity of what he’d done.
“I saw it, and it did look pretty bad,” he said. “The first thing I did was apologize on [Big Ten Network], just saying obviously I didn’t mean to do it, I felt bad about it, and I was sorry. Then I called Archie Griffin that night and talked to him. He said he didn’t even realize what happened until after, when people hit him up. He didn’t think anything of it.
“But we won our football conference, we’re Big Ten champs. The last thing that’s going through my mind at that time is to try and disrespect someone, let alone a man like Archie Griffin.”
You can bet teams like the Browns, who have been following Cook’s career for the last two years, will pay attention to what happened that night.
Archie Griffin’s nephew Kevin is the Browns’ vice president of fan experience and marketing, so the Browns should know what Cook said to Griffin on the phone. Other teams may call Griffin to find out.
Last summer former Browns General Manager Ray Farmer went to Walsh Jesuit to talk to retired football coach Gerry Rardin about Cook, Rardin recently told the Beacon Journal. The Browns will pick a quarterback in the April 28-30 NFL Draft, but it might not be with their second overall selection, and that leaves Cook in the mix along with others like Paxton Lynch of Memphis, Christian Hackenberg of Penn State, Cardale Jones of Ohio State and Nate Sudfeld of Indiana.
At the combine, Cook began his mission to sell himself and set teams straight in combine interviews.
Asked what the critics had wrong about him, Cook said, “That I’m a cocky football player, arrogant, stuff like that. It couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s why I’m looking forward to sitting down with these teams and let them find out who the real Connor Cook is. That I’m a nice, humble, hard-working kid.”
Cook thinks some are mistaking his confidence for undesirable traits.
“Any sport, in life, if you’re a businessman you’ve got to be confident,” Cook said. “I always believe in myself. I don’t talk trash when we’re playing. I respect my opponent. I’m just a confident individual.”
Cook won’t be the only NFL quarterback with such swagger. It’s one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking of Carolina’s Cam Newton or Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. But in the next two months, Cook must convince general managers that confidence is all it is.
Griffin may believe Cook meant no disrespect. In the pre-draft process where every perceived negative is dissected, some of Cook’s prospective employers may not be as quick to forgive.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.