There's a subclass of NFL workers more worried than the players about a potential 2011 work stoppage: the assistant coaches. That worry comes in various forms, like Vikings assistant Derek Mason leaving a playoff team for a similar job at Stanford, and Cowboys assistant Todd Grantham doing the same to go to Georgia, and other coaches -- many of them, I'm told -- are considering similar moves that would have been considered a step down in peaceful labor years.
"Assistant coaches are really angry right now,'' said Larry Kennan, the executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. "They're more frustrated with management and ownership than at any time I can remember. They want to be treated with the same respect that they've given to the game over the years, but they're not.''
Kennan and the assistants are angry because of the wildcat way teams are treating coaches in regard to contracts for the 2011 season, with the prospect of a job action looming as early as March of next year. Kennan would not supply specifics, because teams have warned coaches not to disclose contractual language, but teams have been planning how to treat coaches if a lockout occurs. Kennan broke down what teams are planning, in generalities:
• About a quarter of the 32 teams have not told coaches what their plans are, and whether they will employ coaches at their full or partial salaries -- or, in the case of one team, whether they will renew any of their contracts for the 2011 season.
• About a quarter of the teams have told coaches they will be paid normal salaries for between two months and six months -- and then, if there is a lockout, coaches will be paid a percentage of their contracts (which varies from team to team) while there is a lockout. If no games are lost due to the lockout, the lost money will be paid to coaches.
• About 10 teams will cut salaries immediately upon locking out the players. The pay cuts will be between 25 and 40 percent, and could increase if the job action persists.
• Several teams have told coaches they'll be paid in full, though some of that is still being determined by the remaining teams.
"It's really wrong that they tell us over and over again that we're family, then the first time there's a glitch in the system, they cut our pay,'' Kennan said.
The coaches are in a tough spot. They can't unionize, and they can't come forward complaining about their situations, for fear of retribution. But if there's no football, it stands to reason their contracts would be affected in some way -- because if the players aren't getting paid, most teams will feel, "Why should we pay the coaches who aren't coaching anyone?''
That doesn't stop the stress they feel. Most coaches don't have the bank balances of the players they coach. "And we don't have anywhere to go,'' said Jimmy Raye, the San Francisco offensive coordinator and the president of the Coaches Association's executive committee. "We have no voice to management or ownership, so a lot of these guys end up calling the guys who've been in the game for a while asking for advice.''
One of those guys is Raye, a 30-year NFL coaching veteran. "One assistant called me and told me he was in the last year of his contract, wasn't sure he was going to be given another one, and wasn't sure if it would have much value because of the lockout,'' said Raye. "He's got a wife, three children and wondered if he should take a job he got offered at Northern Arizona or stay. I said, 'Come on, I can't advise you on that.' But here's a guy who wants to stay in the NFL, who's a good coach, and doesn't know what to do.''
Said Raye: "All I would ask is there be some concern for the coaches, a voice of concern for us, to calm the anxiety they feel. If the coaches are coaching with anxiety, I think it could take away from the quality of the game and affect their preparation time.''
Point noted. The assistants won't have their voices heard at these league meetings, but what would be good to see is a veteran coach with maximum job security pressing the league to get some equality in the contracts for the assistants -- so that the coaches for Team X are treated contractually the same as the coaches for Team Y in the event of a lockout.
Now for your e-mail:
• ANGRY ABOUT MY CHARACTERIZATION OF SEAN TAYLOR. From Tim of Washington: "You really need to check yourself and your comments about Sean Taylor. Calling someone dead as a disappointing draft pick despite all the stats that show otherwise is at the very least irresponsible journalism, at the worst completely insensitive. You could have made your point without even mentioning Sean. Or if you did talk about him, say the truth. Something like 'While overall drafting that position may be a risk, Sean Taylor was the exception to the rule based on the short time he was able to play' would have been more appropriate. Getting shot down is not a result of playing safety in the NFL.''
I got quite a lot of negative feedback on this, and I'd ask you to look at the full message of what I wrote. What I said about taking a safety high in the first round: Nowhere in the item I wrote about Tennessee safety Eric Berry did I say Taylor was a disappointing draft pick. I simply said the position wasn't often one that had players picked that high because it was risky to predict how long a physical safety could stay healthy. Taylor appeared to be on the way to being a franchise safety when he was killed, and his was a tragic, senseless death. But I don't know if Taylor, who was out with a knee injury at the time of his death, would have been the kind of franchise safety Ed Reed is, because to do so, you've got to stand the test of time. The point of the item is that even the great safeties, the highly regarded ones, are such physical forces on the field that they often don't have long and impactful careers.
• I DOUBT IT. NOT THEIR STYLE. From Eli of Atlanta: "If Ben Roethlisberger is charged by the Milledgeville police, it stands to reason he would be suspended by the league. Does Pittsburgh then become a potential bidder for Donovan McNabb? They're a Super Bowl contender, which would surely interest him, and they don't necessarily have to keep him after a year if they think Ben is coming back.''
To get McNabb would cost the Steelers their first-round pick, the 18th in the draft, I would think. That's not the kind of thing a conservative team like the Steelers would do. Second, what happens if Roethlisberger is found to be innocent, and all he gets is a two-game NFL suspension for putting himself in position to tarnish the league's image? What do you do for the final 14 weeks of the season, with a quarterback you've traded a first-rounder for and another one who's won two Super Bowls?
• OVERTIME IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. From J.R. Hall of Pittsburgh: "I don't know who that coach is who's worried about all the extra overtime decisions he'd have to make if the rule passes, but I sure hope he's not coaching my team.''
It's not just one coach who feels that way. John Fox talked about it openly to Jarrett Bell of USA Today, and others have talked about it too. I'd bet you the majority of coaches are happy with the system the way it is. A member of the Saints' staff told me here, "We're 2-2 in overtime in the last four years. Our feeling is things just even out. Overtime the way it is is not an advantage to any team.''
I don't see OT reform passing here, but who knows? Stranger things -- many of them -- have happened.
• KEITH WONDERS ABOUT ATHLETIC OFFICIALS. From Keith of San Antonio: "Nice story about Carl Johnson. My question: With players getting bigger and faster, and officials getting, well, older, what options are the NFL looking at -- younger officials or more officials? The idea of a 40 or 50-year-old chasing a 20-something and getting the calls right seems a bit far-fetched.''
Good point. Mike Pereira told me the other day he thinks the physical requirements of the umpire now may change. Instead of having beefier guys able to withstand the collisions from ping-ponging around the middle of the field, they'll now likely look for guys able to move faster and catch up to plays because they'll be starting from the backfield, 10 yards behind the line in many cases. But as far as overall condition of officials, I don't think the change will be very drastic. They keep harping on guys to stay slim and athletic, so that will continue.
• THE PLAYERS SHOULDN'T PAY FOR STADIUMS. From Greg V. of Sitka, Alaska: "I think the owners claiming that the players need to give up money for stadiums is pretty ridiculous. Many of these guys are multi-billionaires who are already getting public assistance and tax-free bonds to build these huge buildings that are used, at most, 13-14 times a year. I understand if these stadiums were being funded completely out of pocket, but they are not.''
You should work for the NFLPA. That's a refrain I'm hearing from a lot of players, and I think the NFL will have to re-frame its demands for a bigger piece of the revenue pie, because the public's not going to buy this one.
• THE NINERS ARE A HOT-BUTTON TOPIC HERE. From Aaron of San Jose: "What is your take on the 49ers GM situation? I can't imagine the timing could be any worse, one month before the draft and going through front-office issues.''
Exactly the question I asked Niners president Jed York Monday night. "The timing is not good,'' said York, "but we have been preparing for this for some time.'' He told me all the predictable things when you blow up your football organization a month prior to a very big draft, but I think your concern is valid. The Niners have the 13th and 17th picks in the deepest draft in some time, and a rookie drafter is leading them. Should you be concerned? Absolutely. I hope to address the San Francisco situation more in next week's column.