Confusion and mistrust over changes in the league's pension program is wreaking havoc with some NFL teams' coaching staffs, including the pending retirement of Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, according to Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association.
Kennan confirmed that Mudd has "already filed his retirement papers" and added that he believes Moore is "just about there."
"What a travesty it would be that two of the most successful coaches in the history of this league feel compelled to retire because of the owners' greed and the state of confusion by recent changes in the pension plan," said Kennan. "And let me tell you something: They don't want to bail on the Colts but they just may feel like they have no other choice."
The NFL coaches association issued a statement Friday saying it would like to see a unified pension plan that has "portability and carries vestment from team-to-team."
Mudd has coached 35 consecutive seasons in the NFL and Moore has been an assistant for 32 years. Both are considered among the finest assistant coaches in league history and their 12-year Indianapolis union as offensive coordinator and line coach has been considered a major factor to the success of the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning.
NFL owners passed a resolution at the league meetings that allowed the 32 teams to opt out of a uniformed pension plan, which has been a generous incentive for coaches to remain at the pro level. Many teams have yet to decide on their specific plans for non-playing employees but Kennan painted a picture of betrayal.
"Howard was already researching the strategy of when to take a lump sum payment when the owners pulled this fast one," said Kennan. "Let me tell you something: The owners did this at the league meetings and they never informed me of anything. They didn't notify the [coaches] within their own organizations, with the exception of two classy organizations -- the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens -- that there were changes coming. No advance warning and no information after the fact.
"So you take a guy like Howard Mudd, who is pretty diligent about everything, and he was already concerned about losing some money because the market index was going to change in July. Then you throw this at someone like that -- and he finds out that several teams have not fully funded their pension plans at an 80 percent level, the mark they need to hit for any employee to take a full lump sum payment. ...Well, Howard Mudd's not waiting around to see what happens with all these signals. And he's a guy that a lot of other coaches respect -- especially Tom Moore -- so they could follow his lead."
Kennan said he was only authorized to speak for Mudd and not Moore, who was unavailable for comment.
Colts president and GM Bill Polian released a statement through the team Wednesday, saying, "We have the highest personal affection and professional regard for Howard and it would be inappropriate for us to speculate at this time about any decisions he might eventually reach."
If the Colts lost Moore and Mudd, it is believed current assistants Clyde Christensen (assistant head coach, receivers) and Pete Metzelaars (assistant offensive line coach), would become prime candidates to replace them.
League owners have privately said the dramatic changes in the economic market was more than doubling the amount of contributions -- one owner suggested the league-wide contribution projected a hike from $40 million to $90 million -- that teams were required to make under the former uniformed plan. Consequently, owners passed the resolution in March that empowered teams to independently established their own pension plans.
Mudd would like to remain as a "consultant" with the Colts but that is also one of the loopholes that owners wanted to close, sources said, citing the example of another renown line coach, Alex Gibbs, who met the league formula for cashing out fully on his pension, only to be hired back as a $800,000 to $1 million consultant.
The coaches do have an associatio n but have failed to organize as a union, despite advice from Kennan and former NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, who died suddenly last year, to form a union. Kennan said that the new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is determined to "protect the coaches" going forward.
Kennan, as the leader of the Coaches Association, works out of the NFLPA offices. Upshaw enabled the coaches to use NFLPA counsel in various grievance hearings.
But Smith, as the newly-elected NFLPA leader, has overwhelming and urgent issues with the current collective bargaining agreement that will expire after the 2010 season. Older coaches may be under the gun to make career decisions than can impact teams, like the Colts while younger coaches may look at their own alternatives down the road.
"Over the course of time, I think you'll see the NFL lose some quality coaches, especially quality young coaches, because of this pension issue," Kennan said. "Look at how well colleges are paying coaches now; one of the factors that weighed in NFL favor for these coaches was the league pension plan. Now? That could change."
One owner countered that teams that want to remain attractive to coaches will have to seriously consider the impact of a diminished pension plan when competing for their services. Some teams will value coaches more than others, this owner conceded.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.