NFLPA faces critical time in wake of Upshaw's passing

Stunned and saddened at the loss of their friend and colleague, Gene Upshaw, the NFL Players Association now must carry on without the man who has led them since the 1970s.

In its history, the NFLPA's only two Executive Directors were Upshaw and Ed Garvey.

Now, with Upshaw's death, it will be looking for a third.

For the short term, NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen has been selected as Upshaw's interim successor.

The NFLPA conducted a noon conference call to appoint the interim successor, and Berthelsen was the unanimoous choice. Berthelsen has been with the NFLPA for well over 30 years, and has sat in on the negotitions for collective bargaining agreements.

Some believe that no matter what happens, Berthelsen is the best candidate to lead the next round of labor talks regarding a collective bargaining agreement that is scheduled to expire after the 2010 season.

Still, a search firm is expected to be hired to help find Upshaw's full-time successor.

Upshaw and the NFLPA were planning to hire a search firm this March, at its next annual meeting, to help find Upshaw's successor. But the plan was to have any successor learn at the feet of Upshaw, while the next round of collective bargaining talks were underway.

Now, if a successor is chosen, he will learn from Berthlesen and NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler.

A search firm could go in any number of directions. When the NBA's player union was searching for a new executive director, a search firm found former Redskins and Dolphins wide receiver Billy Hunter, who had gone on to become an accomplished attorney.

But if the search firm looks within the football world, its pool of candidates is expected to include former NFLPA player presidents Troy Vincent, Trace Armstrong and Mike Kenn; former NFL tight end Steve Jordan, who is now a civil engineer; and even former NFL running back Robert Smith, who has dabbled as a football analyst.

It is a critical time for whoever takes over.

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