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Citing job security, coaches side with players in labor dispute

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL Coaches Association filed an amicus brief with the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, supporting the players' cause as the league appeals an injunction granted to lift the lockout.

The NFLCA's contention, as stated in the brief, is that the NFL "is attempting an end-run around a unanimous Supreme Court," saying that the court clearly stated the league is subject to the Sherman Act in the American Needle case last year and held it responsible for subsequent antitrust violations.

"To me, this is a real simple deal: Coaches are opposed to the lockout because it's negatively affecting coaches," said Larry Kennan, director of the NFL Coaches Association. "If it were a strike, we would be against the strike, like we were in '87. This just happens to be the owners, and we're opposed to them, because they're locking out. But if it was a strike, we'd be against the players."

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The brief does not have the names of any current coaches attached to it.

"It's not something you need names to do," Kennan said. "We are by definition a friend of the court, we're telling the court we're doing this because we'd like the strike to end. It was never a requirement to put names on it."

Kennan confirmed that the association filed an AMICUS on American Needle. He also said that his belief is 10 to 12 teams have cut salary/benefits of coaches already.

The trade association representing the coaches went on to say that its members are suffering irreparable harm as part the lockout, now in its third month.

The brief reads: "Coaches who cannot produce immediate results suffer irreparable harm. They must uproot their families to seek employment elsewhere, and they have difficulty overcoming the perception of failure. The hours and effort demanded of assistant coaches are justified only by the prospect of lucrative and stable employment that follows proven success. Failure at an early stage of one's career, however, can falter career aspirations for many subsequent years."

In particular, the brief cited the NFL's eight new head coaches -- two of whom were promoted from positions as interim coaches -- as being in a particularly precarious situation.

Of those eight, only John Fox has previously been an NFL head coach, something that was also raised in the brief.

"To me, it's simple: The league mandated new coaches get an extra minicamp, because they realize they need extra time to get everything taught," Kennan said. "This is not the NFL of 20 years ago, where coaches have five years to get the program up and running. They have two or three years max, and then they're fired."

Kennan acknowledges there will be some "mixed emotions" among coaches regarding the association's decision.

"Some coaches will get nervous about it, most of them will probably be on teams not having salaries and benefits cut," Kennan said. "And those who are having those things cut will probably be more for us than against us. The reason we formed the coaches association is so we could speak with one voice, and guys didn't have to do that themselves."

The brief reads: "The lockout, if left in force, will prevent the coaches from meaningfully preparing and readying themselves for the season. While all coaches will be exposed to greater risk of failure, the eight teams with new coaching staffs are at particular risk. Since unforgiving expectations for immediate results will persist regardless of any lack of opportunity to prepare, these eight coaching staffs are losing irreplaceable time to prepare for a job that demands success.

"Thus, a lockout that prevents coaches from preparing their players for the season will inflict irreparable harm on all coaches; coaches on the eight new staffs -- especially the new assistant coaches on those staffs -- will suffer even greater harm that will be even more impossible to repair."

The coaches' brief also included charts showing an uptick in coaches fired after two and three years in an effort to show how important a single year with players can be.

From a legal standpoint, the NFLCA used the irreparable harm argument, as well as its stance on the Sherman Act and also the Norris-LaGuardia Act, to seek protection for its members as "nonunion employees."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello released a statement making it clear the league wasn't caught off guard by the Coaches Association's stance.

"The Coaches Association offices with the Players Association in Washington. So this comes as no surprise."

Kennan made it clear coaches just want to get back on the field.

"We want to get back to coaching; If there's a normalcy to coaching, we'd like that to return."

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