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Bears ease coaches’ minds on pay cuts

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

While the overwhelming majority of NFL coaches will be forced to accept pay cuts in the event of a labor stoppage, Bears assistants have been assured their pay won’t be docked unless a lockout forces NFL games to be canceled, team president Ted Phillips said Friday.

‘‘I’ve told them exactly what we’re going to do in the event a lockout occurs,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘We’re having no layoffs, no furloughs, no pay cuts until we actually miss games.’’

When it was announced Friday that the deadline for NFL players and owners to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement had been delayed until 4 p.m. next Friday, those breathing the deepest sighs of relief were coaches and other team employees who could be caught in a financial pinch during a lockout.

In many cases, at least in the short term, those least responsible for the ongoing spitting match would suffer most.

‘‘Owners won’t lose money in March or April, and the players get paid during the season, so the coaches and other employees who are expected to work and get ready for the draft are the ones who will be taking, in some cases, significant pay cuts,’’ said longtime NFL assistant Larry Kennan, now executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. ‘‘It doesn’t seem right.’’

Negotiations have taken a hair-pin turn for the better after the sides agreed to two delays in two days, although it could change a fragile dynamic when NFL owners join the talks next week. If five more days of negotiations can’t produce an agreement, the worst-case scenario — a lockout — remains a possibility.

Meanwhile, teams aren’t allowed to make roster moves during the extended negotiating window, although they can talk to players currently under contract.

‘‘It’s time for us to dig deep and try to find solutions and try to compromise in a way that will work for everybody,’’ NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said Friday. ‘‘The commissioner has been very clear. If everybody gives a little, we can all gain a lot. That’s what we’re going to try to do [next] week.’’

Owners have been preparing for a possible lockout for three years. Kennan said 90 to 95 percent of the contracts for current NFL head coaches include language that would reduce their salaries in the event of a work stoppage, although a handful of teams have done what the Bears have done. Other exceptions involve high-powered coaches with enough clout to have such language removed.

While the contracts signed by Bears coaches call for 25 percent pay cuts and possibile termination after 60 days, Phillips has assured not only the coaching staff but other employees that it’s ‘‘business as usual’’ unless a lockout drags into September, which seems unlikely given recent momentum.

‘‘We didn’t want to do that,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘It’s a difficult situation. Everyone is pleased with how we’re handling it.’’

There is no league-wide template for how teams should handle a work stoppage. Some coaches would not be impacted for six months, while others’ salaries would be reduced immediately. Another common clause calls for coaches to take significant pay cuts after 60 days, with more cuts up to 65 percent after 120 days.

In some cases, coaches can recoup lost money if the labor stoppage doesn’t shorten the season.

‘‘Coaches are upset,’’ Kennan said. ‘‘It’s weird and scary, and coaches are really caught in the middle of this thing. All we want to do is coach.’’

The average NFL assistant earns between $300,000 and $350,000 per year, Kennan said, although those figures can vary wildly. Other team employees make far less.

‘‘There are probably two to three teams in the league who treat their employees very well, and a third of the teams don’t treat them as well as we would like,’’ Kennan said.

Rank the Bears at or near the top.

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