The NFL Coaches Association (NFLCA) took a big hit this past week in the way of credibility inside its own walls. Negative backlash from coaches on 15 of the 32 NFL clubs signified an overall lack of unity on the part of the association, which negated its positive attempt to support the players. Larry Kennan, the staff director of the NFLCA, filed an amicus brief with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the players, setting off fireworks with owners and leaving general managers scrambling to make statements to the press on non-support.
Kennan once was a prominent football coach in the NFL. He is well-respected among his peers as a good X’s and O’s man. Keenan had many stops throughout his career, including the World Football League, and was hired by Tom Flores to serve as the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive coordinator in 1992, enjoying several good years as an NFL assistant coach.
Throughout the National Football League’s long and illustrious history, labor unrest has played a nasty role in the battle between owners and players, and the same struggles exist today. With revenue the main issue, the owners and players are struggling to reach a new CBA, and to negotiate a split of $9 billion.
In 1996, secretive meeting sessions and support, through funding by a small group of coaches, formed the new association. Its main focus: to abolish discrimination among coaches and fight for equality for all. Coaches of all colors came together to fight for one another.
According to Kennan, many coaches since the formation of the NFLCA have received raises after discovering they were not being paid market value.
“The more coaches who complete the salary survey, the more influential it can be in helping to ensure that all NFL coaches are receiving a salary comparable to that of their counterparts throughout the league,” he said. “This has been one of the best changes for coaches, because it means more money now, which gives us more money in our pensions. Not only salaries but also career development and the training in the area of salary cap, dealing with media and agent relations building.”
The coaches were determined and became very organized, staging the very first symposium in May 1998 in Miami. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was quoted saying, “That’s silly,” but the 400-member strong association was gaining strength in numbers and standing tall for its beliefs.
Once the coaches formed an association, becoming one voice, everyone involved – including the owners and the media – began to look at coaches in a different, respectful light. Kennan said at the time, “Through this unitary act, the coaches put a value on themselves. The rest of the NFL began to treat us with a lot more respect and dignity.”
Former Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders agreed, and said he was able to get a huge raise that nearly doubled his salary as a result of having accurate salary information of his peers.
In order for the NFLCA to be a ligate association, it was extremely important that they received the backing of one of the strongest unions in all of sports, the NFL Players Association, and had a office in their building as well. While Kennan fell short of communicating to all NFLCA members, I felt his heart was in the right place as well as his business acumen.
Even though he didn’t get the backing from all paying members due to pressure and varying degrees of backbone when it’s time to stand and fight, the fear of owner backlash and its underlying repercussions is one of the main reasons that the association was formed in the first place. Good for you, coach Kennan, and for all those who stood behind your decision to file the amicus brief in support of the trade association. Those are your true members, and the rest should have their cards revoked.