NFL assistants to unionize?

The NFL's assistant coaches have long considered unionizing, and they're reportedly planning to meet at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis to gauge interest in moving forward with the endeavor. And a situation like Mike Tice's could come into play.

Concerns about pensions, benefits and potential pay cuts -- most coaches have lockout clauses in their contracts calling for drastic salary reductions if there's a work stoppage -- are at the heart of the NFL Coaches Association's decision to consider unionizing.

But an AFC source said Tice, who just completed his first season as the Chicago Bears' offensive line coach, was somewhat disappointed that the Bears denied the Tennessee Titans permission to interview him for their offensive coordinator's position.

In recent weeks, several coaches around the league have been denied permission to interview with teams in part because of the league's restrictive rules on interviewing assistants. NFL rules require teams to allow assistants to interview for head coaching positions, but they're not mandated to allow assistants to interview for coordinator positions -- an issue likely to be addressed by the NFL Coaches Association when it meets about possibly unionizing.

Undoubtedly, the Bears' decision to prevent Tice from interviewing in Tennessee was best for the team. But it also raises bigger issues regarding the league's rules about hiring assistant coaches, who have lost pension benefits recently, and have no voice in the ongoing labor dispute between players and ownership, yet stand to suffer drastic salary cuts if there's a work stoppage.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have been complimentary of Tice's efforts in developing a patchwork offensive line that resulted in the Bears giving up a league-high 56 sacks. Smith indicated that he wouldn't stand in the way of assistants pursuing opportunities, while expressing a desire to keep the club's staff in place.

"When you have a successful year, you do some good things, people look at your staff [to possibly hire]," Smith said after the season. "I wouldn't be surprised. I'm hoping we'll be able to keep our same staff in place, but it seems that never happens. I'm hopeful we'll be able to keep everyone around."

Former special teams assistant Chris Tabor left the Bears staff recently to become the special teams coordinator in Cleveland, and Eric Washington left in a lateral move to become the defensive line coach for the Carolina Panthers.

The Bears obviously deemed Tice too valuable to open the door to his possible departure. A former assistant head coach with the Jaguars, Tice doesn't appear to be in line for a promotion to that title with the Bears, considering defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli already holds a post as an assistant head coach under Smith.

The team also hasn't divulged whether it plans to sign Tice to a new contract or offer the coach a raise.

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.