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Pension tension: Assistants upset with NFL

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFL Coaches Association director Larry Kennan listed the 49ers and Cardinals among eight NFL teams known to have withdrawn from the league's employee pension plan since March.

That revelation doesn't necessarily mean the 49ers' Jerry Sullivan, Jimmy Raye and other assistant coaches nearing age 65 will follow Howard Mudd and fellow Colts assistant Tom Moore by considering retirement to maximize lump-sum pension installments. But Kennan said older coaches are increasingly worried about their retirement options after the league changed its pension plan while allowing teams to opt out of it altogether.

In March, NFL owners adopted a measure allowing teams to break from the NFL pension plan in favor of other plans. The goal presumably was to give teams greater flexibility in difficult economic times. Eight teams have exercised that option, but the Falcons were the only one of the eight to apprise employees in advance, according to Kennan (the 49ers and Cardinals declined comment, per team policy on internal employment matters).

Separately, the NFL altered its pension plan to affect how much money Mudd, Moore and other employees would receive if they waited past July to cash out.

"Can you imagine how bad it is for two of the greatest assistants in the game to retire over this?" Keenan said. "Did they overreact? Maybe. But they haven't been given better answers as to what the options are for them."

NFC West coaching staffs have undergone a youth movement this offseason, but several coaches face important decisions as they approach age 65.

The 49ers' Sullivan turns 65 in July. He has coached in the NFL since 1992. Raye, an NFL coach since 1977, is 63. Rams quarterbacks coach Dick Curl is 69 and an NFL assistant since 2003. Seahawks assistant Larry Marmie, 66, entered the NFL in 1996. Seahawks special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven, an NFL assistant since 1987, is 60.

According to Kennan, one option for coaches could be to retire, collect the lump-sum payments and then return to coaching next season.

The Colts were not among the teams to opt out of the league pension plan, Kennan said. Mudd and Moore based their fears on changes to the NFL's plan, amid concerns that some teams -- potentially including their past employers -- might have underfunded their plans. Laws prevent employees from drawing lump-sum payments from plans funded at less than 80 percent.

This is a contentious issue within the league. Additional communication between the league and its coaches seems appropriate. Kennan made some strong statements, which are included later in this entry. I'll first pass along a statement from NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

Aiello: The resolution approved by the clubs at the March league meeting simply gives each club flexibility and a broader range of options in determining retirement benefits for its front-office employees. This is not just about coaches but all non-player employees. Clubs now have the same flexibility regarding retirement plans as any other employer. It is also worth noting that nobody will lose anything that has already been earned and that all benefits earned through 2008 will be funded and paid.

Kennan, a former Raiders and Seahawks assistant who contributed to our package on all-time great quarterbacks, said most NFL teams failed to adequately inform employees about potential changes. The Falcons and Ravens notified employees of potential changes, Kennan said. The Falcons opted out of the pension program, as did the 49ers, Cardinals, Saints, Bills, Cowboys, Texans and Patriots, according to Kennan. Kennan listed six additional teams as undecided on pension changes.

Kennan: Howard Mudd and Tom Moore were looking at pension stuff after the season was over, not intending to retire. They wanted to see how much they would collect and begin to know more about it than they did. They got to looking into it and one of the things they found out was, the index [for] the amount they are going to get was going to change in July, and if they waited til July to take it rather than March or April, it would cost them a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Then they heard a number of teams were underfunded in their pension plans. Each team pays into its own pension plan. If the percentage of funding is below 80 percent, the IRS does not allow you to give a full lump sum. If Howard wants to take a lump sum, which everyone wants to do, then he was concerned he would not be able to do that. He would have to take part in an annuity and it messes with your Social Security.

In the middle of this, the NFL changed the entire pension for the NFL coaches and employees and nobody had any answers and nobody has any answers yet.

A coach could take his money and come back next year. There is nothing to stop them from doing that. Every coach in the league is concerned about how this change in pension and retirement funds is going to affect all of us. Coaches are up in arms all over the league. The owners waited for everyone to sign contracts, then revealed how pension rules were changed, then no one knew until a couple teams told their employees. Still, some have not told them.

It's cruel and unusual and a complete and total lack of respect for your employees to do that.

As noted, additional communication between the league and its coaches seems appropriate.