NFC West: Larry Kennan

Those unsightly, overly tight shorts seen on football coaches over the years should have a new name: amicus briefs.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, coaches did not reject those violators of style as strongly as they have attacked a legal document purportedly filed on their behalf.

The NFL Coaches Association and its executive director, Larry Kennan, are taking shot after shot over the amicus brief they filed supporting the players' position against the lockout. The St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals have let it be known that their staffs, like a growing list of others, did not know about or support the filing. And as DiLune2 pointed out in the comments section of this item, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll tweeted that he didn't know of it, either.

The brief argues that the lockout inflicts "irreparable harm" on coaches, primarily assistants new to their teams, by preventing them from preparing for the upcoming season. The brief points to high turnover rates for coaches and claims that assistants are increasingly vulnerable to firing when their teams fail.

The NFLCA also filed an amicus brief against NFL owners in the landmark American Needle case, but the lockout has made this a far more sensitive time for coaches to speak up. My take and a few notes on the situation after speaking with Kennan, assistant coaches and team executives:
  • Coaches are ultimately more loyal to their employers than to the NFLCA, which is not a union. Many fear for their jobs and are not comfortable speaking up at this time, or any time. Some resent the fact that the NFLCA filed this brief without soliciting more input from coaches or at least getting ahead of the story through better public relations. Kennan said he followed standard procedure, going through his executive committee and emailing all coaches, including head coaches, with the necessary info. But quite a few have been on vacation, and some felt this was a bad time to make waves.
  • The brief struck a nerve with owners. Teams continue to release statements saying their coaches oppose the filing. Coaches would not be making these statements without pressure from their owners, in my view. The league doesn't want to fight the labor battle on more than one front. Teams think the lockout will help the league reach a more favorable agreement. In turn, they think a more favorable agreement would benefit assistant coaches by growing the NFL's portion of the revenue pie.
  • Kennan and the NFLCA have expressed fear in the past that resounding NFL victories on the antitrust front would allow owners to continue taking away some of the victories coaches have scored on the benefits front. As Kennan sees it, the league has already reached into coaches' pockets by threatening pensions and writing lockout clauses into contracts.
  • The Washington Redskins were the first team to release a statement repudiating the filing. Kennan: "Once the Redskins did this, the owners have gotten to their guys and said, 'We need this, too.' What are the coaches going to do, say no?"
  • I suspect Kennan underestimated the response this filing has generated. In retrospect, he should have finessed this story from the front end, better informing his membership. Kennan sounds undeterred, saying, "There is no reason a coach ought to come out and say he is publicly not for this because it can only be good for coaches. Ownership would like to see us go away because we have raised salaries and we create problems for them because I can speak for coaches when they can’t speak for themselves. I exist so the coaches don’t have to be heroes and fight the owner one on one. They can deny they agree with anything I have said, and it’s OK."
  • Kennan says the coaches would come out against the players if the players were striking. He says they took that stance during the 1987 strike. But it's also true that the NFLCA works out of the NFLPA offices and uses NFLPA resources. Why? Kennan says the league never offered to assist.
  • In my experience, older coaches better appreciate the significant strides assistants in particular have made in commanding bigger salaries. Veteran coaches such as Jimmy Raye, who heads the executive committee, and Howard Mudd, also an NFC West coaching alum, are among the coaches who have been most strongly aligned with the NFLCA. Younger coaches are also involved, but some of them are more likely to envision themselves rising quickly through the ranks without NFLCA support.

The fallout from this amicus brief filing will presumably diminish over time. Owners can have long memories, however, and if their emotions come into play on this issue, coaches could still pay. While it's true that a larger NFL revenue pie could benefit coaches, unbridled league power on the antitrust front could give teams more power to act unilaterally toward coaches -- for better or worse.
Recent stories about NFL teams reducing salaries for assistant coaches by 25 to 50 percent raised a couple of questions:
  • How much are teams saving?
  • How much do those savings help teams relative to how much the reductions hurt coaches?

Let's make some educated calculations. First, though, we'll need some financial parameters.

Larry Kennan of the NFL Coaches Association says assistants earn from $25,000 to $2 million annually, with the average between $350,000 and $375,000.

Let's use that $350,000 figure for the sake of this conversation. Let's assume a staff has 20 members.

Twenty times $350,000 equals $7 million per year, which equates to $583,333 per month.

Let's assume a team reduced that pay by 25 percent during the course of a lockout.

The team would be paying $437,500 per month for that same 20-member staff, a savings of $145,833 per month.

Let's say a lockout spans five months.

Our mythical NFL team would be saving $729,167 over the course of those five months. That is less than three of four NFC West teams paid their long-snappers in base salary last season.

In fairness to teams, assistant coaches signed contracts with lockout clauses allowing for pay reductions. Teams are acting within their rights.

The issue isn't necessarily whether teams can afford to pay $729,167 for assistant coaches during a lockout. We could use similar calculations to justify any number of expenditures that might not make business sense.

I found the perspective helpful nonetheless.
A few thoughts on the report detailing scheduled pay reductions for the Arizona Cardinals, set to begin next month if the lockout continues:
  • The Cardinals' reputation for being cheap was hard-earned over decades. They have plenty of company with lockout-induced pay reductions, however.
  • During the combine, ESPN's Bill Williamson quoted NFL Coaches Association leader Larry Kennan as saying a dozen teams planned cuts of 20 to 25 percent, and that cuts up to 40 percent were possible.
  • More recently, USA Today quoted Kennan as saying 13 teams have already cut or can cut salaries 25-50 percent.
  • I don't know if these types of cuts are warranted or necessary. The NFL is going out of its way to demonstrate financial hardship in an effort to secure a more favorable labor agreement. These types of measures let them say, in effect, "See, we're hurting."
  • It's also possible that some of these teams really are hurting, and these pay reductions simply reflect financial realities brought about by a work stoppage during an economic downturn.
  • Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic said the Cardinals planned furloughs for employees from May 23-28.
  • For reference, consider this 2009 piece I put together citing coaches' concerns. Last year, I wrote about how the coaches had considered forming a union. Teams were already adding lockout clauses into contracts in anticipation of the current predicament. Coaches grudgingly accepted.
  • Kennan has said he thinks more NFL assistants have bolted for the college ranks recently to avoid lockout clauses. I have no statistical evidence suggesting that is the case. More thoughts here.

We should expect more such reports as the lockout continues.

Around the NFC West: Rams' offense

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
9:43
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have agreed to terms with free-agent safety Clinton Hart, formerly of the Chargers. The team needs help at the position after Oshiomogho Atogwe's potentially season-ending shoulder injury.

Also from Thomas: The Rams are on pace to score 185 points, which would be the seventh-lowest figure since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978. Thomas: "Subtract defensive end Leonard Little's TD on an interception return in Jacksonville, and Daniel Fells' TD catch on a fake field goal in Detroit, and the Rams have 12 offensive touchdowns in 12 games. One must go back to the 1944 Cleveland Rams to find the last time a Rams team finished a season scoring fewer than 200 points. Coach Aldo 'Buff' Donelli's squad put up 188 points. But keep in mind, they played only 10 games that season and finished 4-6."

More from Thomas: advice for Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur via a weekly chat. Thomas: "I would try to mix it up. Run more four WR sets. Get Ruvell Martin more involved, particularly in the red zone. Mix in some no huddle for a series or two at random during a game. Run out of spread formation (or passing sets); Pass out of running formation. Try to be unpredictable and keep the defense guessing, while still featuring Jackson. Try more double moves off the short passing game. Use all of the field. Get the tight ends more involved. Try a trick play now and then." The Rams have run quite a bit from three-receiver personnel.

More yet from Thomas: He does not see a legitimate No. 1 receiver on the Rams' roster.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo will not be adopting a spread offense anytime soon. The Rams lack the personnel to scare teams in the passing game. Putting Ruvell Martin on the field isn't going to loosen up defenses and lead to a scoring spree.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with NFL Coaches Association leader Larry Kennan regarding a potential NFL lockout. Somers: "Head coaches aren't exempt, either. Most new coaches, or those who re-signed in the past couple of years, have contract clauses that include pay cuts in the event of a lockout. So although the 2011 season might seem far away to fans, it's not to coaches. Cardinals management recently approached some assistant coaches with offers of two-year contracts, but with a catch. The terms of the 2010 deals, including salaries, were spelled out. Details for the 2011 season were not. In the event of a lockout, would assistants receive full pay? Half? Nothing?" Cardinals strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott remains without a deal for next season.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says a bad back has prevented Brian St. Pierre from making a stronger run at the No. 2 quarterback role in Arizona. Urban: "I have played through considerable pain in my life before but this is every day I am trying to fight through it. It’s better than it was in camp but I’m not taking hits either. I am just more disappointed because I couldn’t put my best foot forward in camp and I don’t know if people realized that. I was caught between a rock and a hard place."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 has high marks for the Cardinals' offense in Week 13.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the Seattle defense has fared much better against the Rams and 49ers than against the Cardinals and Vikings. Also: "Matt Hasselbeck needs 576 passing yards in the final four games to move past Ring of Honor QB Dave Krieg for the top spot on the franchise’s all-time list. Krieg passed for 26,132 yards from 1980-91. Hasselbeck has 25,557 since joining the Seahawks in 2001."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times isn't convinced the Seahawks have the personnel to seriously consider switching to a 3-4 defense next season.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Nate Burleson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are each on pace to finish with 80 receptions this season. Williams: "They would be the first receiving duo in franchise history to accomplish that feat. And both also have shots to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau for receiving. If they reach that mark, the duo would become the second pair of Seahawks receivers to do so, joining Joey Galloway (1,039 yards) and Brian Blades (1,001) in 1995."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers a player-by-player review from the 49ers' defeat at Seattle. A hamstring injury forced strong safety Michael Lewis out of the game on obvious passing downs. On Ahmad Brooks: "Replaced Manny Lawson in nickel situations for about half of the snaps. Put on a nice spin move against left tackle Sean Locklear for first-quarter sack and forced fumble. . . . Nice pursuit of Matt Hasselbeck to stop him for 4 yards on third and 8 in the third quarter . . . He finished with four tackles and two hits on the QB."

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News says owners of Great America theme park have sued Santa Clara over the city's stadium plans for the 49ers. Mintz: "A spokesman for the 49ers declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it is a matter between the city and the theme park owner. But the lawsuit could push the 49ers to follow through with a plan to go to the voters through an initiative, a move that would eliminate the need for environmental review and approval before the matter goes on the ballot and could short circuit legal challenges under state environmental laws."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers punter Andy Lee, who would rather deal with cold than wind any day. On the conditions Sunday at Qwest Field: "The wind was blowing pretty hard across the field, from right to left, which is the worst wind for me because my ball turns over to the right. It hurts the action of the turnover, and it hurts the drop. Once you got outside that 20, there really wasn't any wind."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider points to dropped passes as a key variable in the 49ers' defeat to Seattle.

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.

(Read full post)

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