- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

Mike Tice earned less than $1million as Minnesota Vikings head coach when he took his team to the second round of the NFL playoffs in 2004.

Al Saunders and Gregg Williams each will earn twice that amount to run the offense and the defense, respectively, for the Washington Redskins.

Salaries for assistant coaches on big-revenue teams have risen dramatically in recent seasons, causing discontent among clubs that bring in less money and believe that puts them at a competitive disadvantage in hiring a coaching staff.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue told reporters at last week’s AFC Championship game that the largesse of Redskins owner Dan Snyder — Saunders’ salary reportedly is higher than that of all eight first-time head coaches hired since the regular season ended — caused concern among owners in smaller markets.

The NFL pools money from its national broadcast rights deals and merchandise sales and divides it equally among its franchises. However, each team keeps revenue from its luxury suites, stadium signage, parking and local radio broadcast rights deals. The Redskins bring in far more from those sources than most other clubs.

Owners of low-revenue teams have been pushing for more of that money to be pooled. A salary cap on staff salaries is seen as unlikely. The owners will continue to discuss this issue at meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week. Tagliabue said he was not optimistic the owners can bridge their differences by March 3, when the free agent signing period begins.

However, some insiders aren’t feeling a lot of sympathy for the Arizonas and Jacksonvilles of the league even if the Redskins are paying Williams and Saunders more than three times the estimated $650,000 average salary for men who run defenses and offenses.

“It’s about time that assistant coaches got paid like that,” said Dick Vermeil, who coached Kansas City, St. Louis and Philadelphia for 17 years before retiring this month. “Those owners that are complaining could pay their assistants like that, but they don’t. The National Football League is supposed to be the best of the best. If you can’t compete with the best of the best, maybe you shouldn’t be in it.”

A longtime NFL general manager wasn’t upset by Snyder’s moves either. He doesn’t expect his coordinators to demand Saunders or Williams-type money and wouldn’t give them if asked.

“The Redskins are just trying to win,” he said. “They haven’t upset the pay scale for assistant coaches. They only compete with themselves. There’s one scale for them and one for everybody else.”

Jim Hanifan, an assistant coach for 25 of his 31 years on the NFL sideline, was thrilled to see two of his peers be so well compensated.

“You’ve got that right,” the 72-year-old Hanifan said. “I just wish it happened a little bit sooner.”

Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw dismissed Tagliabue’s contention that Saunders-type deals mean trouble for the already bogged-down negotiations on extending the collective bargaining agreement.

The commissioner described those talks as “one step forward, two steps back.” Upshaw was even more pessimistic, saying “it’s more like one step forward, five steps back” with the CBA due to expire next March. If that occurred, the salary cap would disappear and Snyder could really start spending on players like Steinbrenner.

“Different clubs spend their discretionary money in different ways,” Upshaw said. “We’re not criticizing the Redskins for spending it on coaches. What we’re saying is that they have to spend some of it on players. Some of these teams that used to have three people in marketing now have 30 to 40, so there’s plenty of money to go around.”

And one of the NFL’s better-paid players, Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, is happy to see more of that money go to assistant coaches.

“More power to Al and to Gregg Williams,” said Green, who operated the NFL’s highest-scoring offense for Saunders this season. “They deserve the money. They’ve been working so hard for a long time. It’s gotten to the point where some owners — if they have the income to do it — think if they’ve done as much as they can from a player standpoint, they’ll go out and get the brightest minds in football and see where that takes them.”

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