In 1998, two years after the formation of the NFL Coaches Association, the assistant coaches started to ratchet up the pressure for recognition and increased salaries. The following articles published in1998 give you an idea what the initial concerns of the coaches association were a decade ago.
By MIKE FREEMAN
Published: Thursday, May 21, 1998
''It's time for the assistant coach to get a seat at the N.F.L. table,'' Wallen said.
N.F.L. assistants, despite their six-figure salaries and guaranteed contracts, are still a highly vulnerable group because they can be fired at any time. It is not uncommon for an assistant to move his family five times during an N.F.L. career.
The protest was first going to be over the fact that there are only 3 black head coaches out of 30 in the league. Then older coaches, mainly in their 60's, wanted to take part, saying that there is an obvious bias against older assistants. Pasquale said that less than 3 percent of all assistant coaches are over 60 years old.
So the protest evolved into a larger statement about several issues affecting assistant coaches, including concerns about what, coaches say, is an ineffective pension plan.
''We're just trying to get the league to move in line with what's taking place in other businesses,'' said Croom, the defensive coordinator for the Lions. ''At least, let's get a meaningful dialogue going.''
Not everyone agreed with the protest. Tagliabue was especially harsh, saying that it ''bordered on silliness because we're well aware of their issues.''
He added: ''We've been talking to them; more than talking to them, we've changed a number of policies. We've amended our health insurance policies for one thing, so I think we've been directly responsive to their concerns.
''Everybody in America likes early retirement. I'd have liked to retire when I was 40, but I'm still working and I'm 57.''
By MIKE FREEMAN
Published: Sunday, September 27, 1998
Larry Kennan, the respected longtime assistant coach, has become the director of the association, and the coaches are taking a less confrontational approach, choosing instead to negotiate quietly with the league. Still, some of the more than 400 assistant coaches remain bitter, since they think they are the only group in the league that has yet to receive its fair share.
''What we are interested in is respect and a little dignity,'' said Kennan, the executive director of the association who has coached in pro football for 15 years. ''You get hired, fired, kicked around and some of it is just not right.''
Head coaches sign contracts that can make them rich for life, even if they are fired. Assistant coaches are more vulnerable. They work 80 hours a week, 26 consecutive weeks with no days off, but that does not keep them from being fired, on average, every two to three years, according to Kennan. One coach said he has moved so much in such a short time that his son missed learning cursive handwriting in school.
The association recently submitted a proposal to the league that Kennan said would improve the quality of life for assistant coaches. He expects a counterproposal from the league by the end of the year. What the coaches are looking for includes:
*A lowering of the retirement age. The league pays a full pension at age 65, but only 9 of the 405 assistants, or 2.2 percent, are at least that age, according to the league. Some assistants feel there is age discrimination, something the league denies.
*Increased health-care benefits and the establishment of severance pay.
*Standard medical and dental insurance. Kennan said the policies vary from team to team. Some policies are great, he said; others are terrible.
*Real-estate expenses. Since coaches move so much, they sometimes incur massive losses in moving and real-estate fees.
''Player salaries have gone up dramatically,'' Kennan said. ''Head coaches as well. The officials have great benefits that we don't have and they're part-time employees. So it's kind of our turn to get what we deserve. We haven't asked for anything extravagant.''
The N.F.L. says assistant coaches are paid well and they have more jobs than ever before. In 1988, according to the league, there were 291 assistant coaches making between $86,000 and $175,000. Now there are 405 assistants making between $148,381 and $475,000.
The league also says it has greatly increased health benefits for coaches by, among other things, making it mandatory for a team to continue a fired coach's benefits for 90 days at the old team's expense.
These articles give an idea of what the assistant coaches were looking for, soon after the formation of the NFL Coaches Association (in 1996). They felt that their jobs were volatile and wanted more benefits and higher salaries. As was stated in the first article, all they really wanted was the league to move in line with what was taking place in other businesses. To see how the NFL responded, and how assistant coaches treatment changed, the following article from 2005 will show the increase in average assistant coach salaries from 2001 to 2005.
By Tom Weir, USA TODAY 8/11/2005
The figures show drastic increases in assistant coach salaries over a five year period, between forty and fifty percent increases over that time. In terms of pension and benefits, the article does not speak to it and I cannot find any article between 1998 and 2009 which speaks directly to the pension issue. I would assume that means, at the very least, that between 1998 and 2005 the biggest concerns for assistant coaches pensions were addressed by the NFL.
The following (2007) article speaks to NFL owner generosity, focusing on head coaching salaries.
HOTTER THAN A CEO
By JOSEPH BARRACATO
September 9, 2007
Salaries of National Football League head coaches are soaring, growing five times as fast as players' paychecks and even outpacing the growth of CEO compensation over the past 10 years, research by The Post shows.
Led by the behemoth contracts of Mike Holmgren, who will earn $8 million this season coaching the Seattle Seahawks, Joe Gibbs, who will be paid $5.7 million to revive the Washington Redskins, and Brian Billick, who will get $5 million to guide the Baltimore Ravens, NFL head coaches' salaries have ballooned by an average of 14 percent a year over the past decade.
That outshines the average 10 percent annual increase in total CEO compensation and the meager 2.7 percent average annual increase of players' salaries, research shows.
Head coaches will pocket an average of $3.25 million this season - up from $1 million in 1997 - while the players will earn an average of $1.5 million.
"There's no question salaries have skyrocketed over the past 10 years," said Larry Kennan, staff director of the NFL Coaches Association - a group working on issues affecting its members. And deep-pocketed owners are offering up more than boatloads of cash to snare the right coach.
Consider this: (Jimmy) Johnson earned $400,000 in his first season in Dallas in 1989. Holmgren will pocket $500,000 per game this year.
Contracts began taking a massive turn in 1996 when the NFL Coaches Association formed. That was when Kennan and his co-workers began gathering data on pay scales for assistant coaches, placing a higher value on their worth.
Over the same 10-year period, the average operating profit of each NFL team has risen 21.5 percent a year, according to Forbes.
Other factors that significantly influenced the boom were free agency and the salary cap, which made the coach's job more demanding - and important.
While not speaking directly to the assistant-coach issue, during the period of greatest economic prosperity, head coaches pay sky-rocketed. The NFL Coaching Association seemed pleased with the results.
How has the high-paid head coaching position been affected since the economy has started to decline? Consider the following article from early 2009.
By: Robert Bowland January 13, 2009
Driving Down Coaching Salaries- Bad News for Six Million Dollar Men
What the last couple of off-seasons seem to be pointing toward is a trend away from hiring superstar, in-demand head coaches. The Jets and Browns seemed game to chase Cowher but apart from that, there hasn't been much love for what we could call "six million dollar (or more) men." The NFL seems to have three distinct pay points for head coaches: $2 million a year for newly hired head coaches or those who don't have much negotiating power; $4 million a year for the mid-tier of experienced head coaches with a couple playoff appearances, maybe another suitor or on a second contract; and finally the $6 million dollar plus men, which usually implies a Super Bowl or two.
What is important to remember here is that coaching compensation is not covered by a cap or paid in earmarked revenues. It comes directly out of the owner's pocket or profits. So with tougher economic times, fewer owners may be willing to spend so liberally on head coaching talent. Nobody should plan a telethon for struggling coaches but every time a young assistant is hired that is one less opening for one of these six million dollar men.
It would seem, based on this article, with a dash of logic thrown in, that NFL owners tend to be more generous with their money when economic times are good and tend to be a little more protective of it as economic conditions start to slip. Fairly common results in poor economic environments for business owners and operators. "Standard procedure" is a phrase that comes to mind.
Soon after this article, in February of this year, the assistant coaching salaries were discussed.
Posted by Mike Florio on February 6, 2009
The pendulum is now swinging in the other direction.
Per a league source, salaries for assistant coaches are trending downward. On average, the salaries have reduced by more than 20 percent.
In 2008, the assistant coaches' average pay ranged between $300,000 and $350,000. Now, the average number is between $250,000 and $275,000.
It's still great money, but it's a sign of how the economic downturn has impacted spending.
And it's another reason why coaches might benefit from a union. The problem, however, is that anyone who would ever take the lead in organizing the NFL coaches would essentially be sacrificing his own career.
Hold on a second, let me get this straight. Every coaching position across the league is experiencing a decline in salary as a result of the poor economy. Yet, the decline in assistant coaching salaries may be a reason to form a union? Alright, I will let that go, if they want to form a union, that is there prerogative. However, note also that the average assistant coaches' pay increased from $280,000 in 2005 to between $300,000 and $350,000 in 2008 (during strong economic years).
Alright now we get to old-trusty, the over-played pension issue which is this month's version of Brett Favre/Jay Cutler.
By Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports May 1,2009 1:55 am EDT
During their annual March meeting in California, NFL owners approved the right of teams to change or eliminate the payments they make to 401(k) and pension plans for employees, including coaches. Pre-existing benefits would be protected, but future contributions could be impacted.
Three owners who did not want to be identified said the move was a direct reaction to the fact that the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players will expire at the end of the 2010 season and that the economy has gone south. Furthermore, there has been an increasing push throughout American business to reduce such benefits.
"All the resolution approved at the league meeting did was to give each club flexibility and a broader range of options in determining retirement benefits for its front-office employees," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.
More importantly, it didn't mean that teams had to follow the new resolution. The decision merely gave teams the choice.
Larry Kennan, the director of the NFL Coaches Association, said he had yet to hear of a team that was wiping out the payments. Still, the mere idea owners are considering it was enough to anger Kennan and other coaches.
"To me, it was thoughtless and disrespectful to coaches and other employees," Kennan said this week regarding the owners' decision. "It wasn't just that they did it, but to do it and let us find out from the newspapers or other sources is just a slap in the face. The owners keep telling coaches that they are valuable, but then they do things like this.
"We all understand the economy is bad, but you could at least talk to us."
Kennan further said that if teams do eliminate the benefits it could inspire coaches to push harder for a formal union. Currently, the NFLCA is only an association, not a union like the NFL Players Association.
The thinking among many people who observe the upcoming talks between owners and players over the CBA is that coaches will be hurt most.
"The coaches are the ones who are going to get pinched in all of this because they don't have a voice at the [negotiating] table," said former NFL player and current agent Trace Armstrong, who was one of four finalists for the NFLPA executive director post. The job went to DeMaurice Smith, who will represent the players' side and, Kennan hopes, the coaches.
"I think we will be quite well represented by the new executive director," said Kennan, whose association depends on the NFLPA to assist in grievances and other matters between coaches and teams. For instance, NFLPA attorneys are currently representing former Oakland coach Lane Kiffin in a grievance he filed against the Raiders.
On April 24, Smith spoke supportively of the coaches and even the thousands of employees who help operate teams and stadiums where games are played. Ultimately, however, Smith's primary job is to represent the players.
I know this article is old news. I wanted to put it up because no one was in "shock and awe" stage when this article ran. It was only when teams actually started opting out of the uniform pension plan that people started to get upset. Still, there are some things to note from the article above.
1) The CBA negotiations coming up could drastically impact the way things are handled for players. Until those negotiations are complete, the owners seem to want to play things safe.
2) The owners cite economic concerns as part of the reason for the move. The head of the NFL Coaches Association has no problem understanding that things may need to change because of the poor economic condition of the country, he just wanted owners to "talk to" the coaches before reaching a decision.
3) Greg Aiello has explained that the change would simply give each club flexibility and a broader range of options in determining retirement benefits for its front-office employees. In other words, when a team has changed its approach to the pension, as some have opted to do, no one knows (right now) what pension plan these teams have settled on. Rather than wait-and-see if the teams present reasonable substitutes for the previous NFL uniform pension plan, everyone is in a tizzy and screaming about greedy team owners.
4) In one breath Trace Armstrong again complains that assistant coaches do not have a voice at the table for the upcoming CBA. In the next breath, Larry Kennan explains that he thinks DeMaurice Smith will give the coaches plenty of air-time in the coming negotiations.
To finish this up I want to turn back time to 1998, when the NFL Coaches Association was formed. The demand that caught my eye was that coaches simply wanted to be treated in a way that was in line with what other businesses were doing. Today, as articles have noted, the business-culture is moving away from big pension packages and starting to reduce benefits as a result of the poor economy. The NFL and team owners are following suit. The assistant coaches are not happy. What gives?
Just food for thought.
*NOTE - Even with the reduction in average assistant coach salaries over the last year, assistant coaches still average more than a million dollars in four years. Not too shabby. In a 15 year career, at this level they will have make just under 4 million dollars on average (this does not take into account higher salaries for coaches with more experience).