Frustrated by Gene Upshaw’s continued reluctance to identify his eventual successor, the executive board of the NFL Players Association has begun the process on its own against the wishes of the 62-year-old executive director.
According to documents obtained by The Washington Times, the board wants to have eight to 10 possible successors interviewed by Nov. 1 and then whittle that list to six finalists by Jan. 1.
While Upshaw, the NFLPA’s executive director since 1983, has presided over a 300-percent increase in average player salary - from $485,000 in 1992 to $1.4 million last year - there has been a fair amount of unrest and scrutiny over the last few years.
A group of retired players has felt left out of the riches, while many others struggle to pay bills and deal with disabilities. They noted that Upshaw’s $6.65 million compensation for the year that ended March 1, 2007, was significantly higher than those of his counterparts from other sports.
And with Upshaw turning 63 next month, a group of NFLPA representatives, led by rep Matt Stover of the Baltimore Ravens, urged him to name a successor earlier this year. Instead, Upshaw shunted aside the top in-house candidate, then NFLPA president Troy Vincent, and named Clark Gaines, considered by many as a figurehead with no aspirations of holding the top spot, as his deputy.
So a four-man subcommittee of Mark Bruener of the Houston Texans, Brian Dawkins of the Philadelphia Eagles, Domonique Foxworth of the Denver Broncos and Tony Richardson of the New York Jets delivered the proposal to the NFLPA on June 18.
According to one of the 32 team player representatives, Upshaw responded with a conference call two days later, accusing the board of violating the union’s constitution and saying its proposal was void. NFLPA president Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans, a staunch Upshaw loyalist, then suggested tabling the subcommittee’s proposal until the annual NFLPA meeting in March.
“The intent of the executive committee is to find a successor, not to fire Gene,” said the player representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The process might take a year. It might not happen until 2010. The person the search firm recommends might not be approved.”
The executive committee has proposed hiring an experienced consultant, Phillip Kuehl, father of veteran long-snapper Ryan Kuehl, to manage the search process, including the hiring of a firm that would identify candidates to succeed Upshaw. The rep said the move to find Upshaw’s successor has the support of seven of 10 members of the executive board.
The player rep added that a majority of the committee believes Upshaw violated the constitution by neglecting to stand for election in 2006. Upshaw was re-elected the following March - a year late, according to some representatives - extending his contract until March 2010.
However, the dissenters are suspicious of that history, too. While Upshaw’s supporters say Tennessee’s Chris Brown and Ryan Kuehl nominated and seconded the nomination, neither man remembers doing so, and the representative said no minutes exist from that meeting.
Neither Upshaw nor members of the subcommittee could be reached for comment.
To Keenan McCardell, who last played for the Washington Redskins, the dispute over Upshaw’s eventual successor is not that important in light of the owners’ unanimous May 20 decision to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement extension that was signed in March 2006.
If negotiations - which both Upshaw and commissioner Roger Goodell have said aren’t likely for several months - don’t produce a new agreement, the NFL would play its 2010 season without a salary cap, likely leading to a lockout in 2011. That would end labor peace that dates to 1987.
“I’m not opposed to it,” McCardell said of the subcommittee’s efforts to find Upshaw’s successor. “That’s part of what the committee does. But that’s not a priority right now. We have bigger fish to fry. The owners have opted out of the CBA. And Gene has negotiated all of our previous extensions [to the deal that was first reached in 1993]. We have to look at what’s best for our 1,900 members whether we retain Gene or replace Gene.”