Caught in the Middle … Morning Cup O’Chiefs

There are innocent victims caught in the middle of the NFL labor dispute between owners and players. There are many groups that have and will be injured if the league’s lockout continues unabated.

It’s the league’s assistant coaches that have felt the impact first. They are caught in what amounts to a football labor no man’s land. The owners of 75 percent of the league’s teams are cutting the salaries of coaches, or forcing them to take unpaid furloughs. Some of the cuts are in excess of 25 percent of their salaries.

Despite that, the owners expect the coaches to be good club employees. That’s why the league’s assistant coaches have been publicly silent when it comes to the lockout. Generally the only voice coming out of the coaching offices belongs to the head coach and very few of them are talking.

But the assistants have made some noise in the last couple weeks and it’s been in interesting example of the no-win situation these coaches are in. Here’s a short chronology of what’s gone down:

  • May 25 – The NFL Coaches Association filed as amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”) in support of the players. In a 14-page document – known as an amicus brief – filed by an attorney representing the coaches. The essential point of their opinion is that the NFL should have to answer to the Sherman Act and that its lockout of the players should be rescinded as an anti-trust violation. The brief said: “Granting equitable relief will also permit NFL coaches … a fair chance to preserve their employment and advance their careers.”
    Here’s a link to a copy of the NFLCA brief.
  • May 26 – The assistant coaches on the Washington Redskins say publicly that “we stand united with our ownership and the brief does not reflect our thoughts on the matter.”  Link.
  • May 27 – The Washington Post reported that some Redskins assistants were concerned that being connected with the NFLCA following the legal filing could jeopardize their job standing with Washington management.
  • May 28 – In New Orleans, the coaching staff of the Saints was “appalled” by the filing of the brief. Assistant head coach and LB coach Joe Vitt told the New Orleans Times-Picayune: “It was awful presumptuous on their part that they would represent all the coaches on our staff,” Vitt said. The Saints coaches are not part of the NFLCA. Link

In subsequent days, coaching staffs for other teams came out and said they didn’t know anything about the brief. In all 14 of the 32 teams were reported to have had no knowledge of the NFLCA brief – Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Minnesota, New Orleans, New York Jets, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle and Washington.

Chiefs head coach Todd Haley was quoted as saying by the Kansas City Star: “In talking to all of our guys, there was a great deal of surprise this was filed on their behalf. Nobody was aware that it was going to happen. This was not on behalf of the coaches.”

The reaction from those 14 staffs came in one of two fashions – coaches said the brief did not speak for them, or nobody knew the brief was coming and its filing was a complete surprise.

There’s a very good chance that the reason so many teams came forward on this subject can be traced back to the owners – without a doubt pressure was brought to bear on some coaching staffs to make a statement. The attempt here was to make the NFLCA look incompetent and without support from the grass roots coaches.

But the association’s executive director Larry Keenan said e-mails were sent to every one of his members alerting them to the future filing of the brief. The fact that some of the coaches did not get those notifications may tell us a great deal about how the teams are monitoring the e-mail of their coaches and other employees. There’s a lot of that going on around the Chiefs these days, but they are not alone, in the NFL or among other businesses, when it comes to looking at employee communication.

Why would the league and owners want to make the NFLCA look bad? Because the assistant coaches have been talking about unionizing for some time now and they are seen as standing in line behind the players as the next group the league must reach agreement on a contract. Some of those at the top of the coaches organization think the cutting of salaries for the assistants, along with more teams opting out of the NFL pension plan, will make more and more assistants willing to push for certification of the association.

The league/owners do not want to see that happen in any fashion. If they have another union to deal that means more salary, benefits, pensions and the like for the assistants. That’s more overhead each year and that nips at the bottom line profits.

So the owners have stonewalled the coaches for some time now, and there are very few provisions in the NFL that cover all assistants in the same way. Decisions and arrangements are made on a case-by-case, team-by-team basis.

These men are expected to maintain good relations with the players when the ultimate agreement comes about and the NFL gets back to football rather than the current state of “tions”. That would be negotiation, mediation and litigation.

That’s what was so short-sighted by those coaching staffs and teams that came out publicly against the NFLCA brief. That leaves little doubt in the mind of the players on what side of the line the coaches stand. That does nothing to develop the “all-for-one” feeling that teams try to germinate through an NFL season.

Stability is not a factor in the life of 99 percent of NFL assistant coaches. Their jobs depend on the head coach, the GM, the coordinators and seldom can those men protect them if the owner or other front-office type wants that coach out.

Right now, no group involved in this NFL labor struggle needs more help than the assistant coaches, the group with the least leverage and the most at stake.


8 Responses to “Caught in the Middle … Morning Cup O’Chiefs”

  • June 7, 2011  - el cid says:

    Interesting how the NFL looks more and more like a house of cards just waiting for a strong breeze. I am not on anyone’s side but…..maybe football needs to die and we can all watch our kids play soccer?


  • June 7, 2011  - Tracy says:

    In the ’60s a brief but widespread electricity blackout in New York City was followed nine months later by a baby boomlet. Were the NFL to have a season shortened by one or two games a similar phenomena might occur, or maybe there would be an uptick in accidents caused by motorized lawn equipment. However, right now it looks like the season will be severely cut back so the only beneficiaries would be the college game and MLB. Plenty of finger pointing and discontent will follow, nobody, particularly the assistants and the marginal players, will be happy but the game will go on and the owners will still be raking it in.

    The President should give Dan Rooney temporary leave from his role as ambassador to Ireland, send Jerry Jones some place that has a good national sense of humor and ask George Mitchell to see what he could do, his disappointing results in the mid East notwithstanding.


  • June 7, 2011  - Leo says:

    Bob. you have just stepped into the deep end. I knew you supported the players, but now you are just gotten obnoxious. To assume that all the coaches knew about this is borderline delusion, and then making accustions rhat the owners are blocking or monitoring emails is rediculous. Did you know that just about every majoer company in the world monitors their employees emails. I agree it is an invasion of privacy, but the supreme court deemed it allowable. Now as for these emais, we receive emails all day every day in my business, and you should not be surprised how some never seem to get to us. They just go to email pergatory. For the NFLCA to represent a fact that they reflect all the coaches postions is outrageous , as we have seen by the coaches who have denied any knowledge. I am not surprised by these tactics by the NFLCA, and the NFLPA. I support labor, and unions in general, but the behavior of both these groups is deplorable. Shut up and get an agreement.


  • June 7, 2011  - PAChiefsFan says:

    Just saw a news report that the NFL is putting together a plan for an 8-game season should it become necessary. It stated that if a CBA is achieved in late November this would be an option. If it goes that long count me out, not interested. See you in 2012….maybe.


  • June 7, 2011  - Leo says:

    I agree, an 8 game schedule is just stupid. These guys better get it together or they will all be looking for jobs in the future. The future of the NFL is now. Get off the pot and get something done.


  • June 7, 2011  - TDKC says:

    I don’t know about the rest of you but I worked my ass off today. Yesterday as well. All I expect in return is fair pay and hopefully some job security.

    It is getting harder and harder to read about this nonsense. Especially when it has become clear that the “little guy” is getting the short end yet again.

    I’m sure these coaches work as hard as any of us and to hear that they will suffer because a bunch of rich guys want to fight over who will be richer makes me angry. They better get this thing fixed.


  • June 8, 2011  - gorillafan says:

    This is always the case. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Same old story. I try not to worry bout this much anymore. I just come to bob gretz to get my chiefs fix in once in awhile and not pay much attention any more. I did for awhile now I dont care, and I wont care until a deal is done and I can come on this site every day and have something new to read, everyday!


  • June 8, 2011  - el cid says:

    Have to say, 8 game NFL schedule, just not interested. Might/will watch on TV but nothing else. Then have to sit down and decide just how entertaining the NFL will be in the future. All is not forgiven, with an agreement, just a little tired of being the chums in this deal.




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