NEW YORK (AP) — NFL assistant coaches are considering unionizing because they feel team owners have stripped them of benefits.
NFL Coaches Association executive director Larry Kennan, a former assistant coach, said Friday that a letter was sent to the group's representatives on all 32 teams urging them to "explore the possibility" of a union. By doing so, assistant coaches could gain negotiating rights they do not have as an association.
"One of our options is looking into becoming a union, and we think we ought to do that," Kennan said. "We feel like we have exhausted the rest of our options. We don't have a lot of clout with the owners."
ESPN.com first reported on the letter, which also was sent to each head coach.
Last year, NFL owners voted to make the pension, 401K and supplemental retirement plan non-mandatory for the clubs.
Those changes led to 11 teams opting out of the league's pension plan and going with alternative programs that the coaches believe are inferior to previous coverage.
That led to the retirements of Indianapolis Colts assistant coaches Tom Moore and Howard Mudd; both returned to the team as consultants and helped the Colts to the league's best record and the AFC championship. And Mudd retired again after the season.
"What Howard and Tom went through was they decided, 'Let's retire,'" Kennan said. "They thought, 'We better take our money now, they may change something else.'"
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said a majority of the clubs did not alter their benefit programs.
"While our clubs now have the flexibility to move away from traditional defined benefit plans, as so many other businesses have done in recent years," he said, "two-thirds of our teams nevertheless have opted to remain in the current defined benefit plan."
Association members must vote to unionize, then they can approach the National Labor Relations Board, which must approve it. Kennan said any association members who are considered supervisors — such as offensive or defensive coordinators — can't be part of a union.
"You can look at that in a variety of ways," Kennan said. "We don't believe assistant coaches in the NFL are supervisors ... and we don't think coordinators are. The NFL has told us we can't become a union because we are part of management. If we are, then why not tell us about all these changes they were making?"
Kennan also is concerned because many coaches' contracts have a lockout clause he said they were required to approve. The NFL could lock out the players in 2011 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached. Owners opted out of the current one, which expires next March.
"So if there is a lockout, then coaches will take a pay cut," Kennan said. "That doesn't seem right because we have no say in the player-owner CBA negotiations."