In an odd twist believed to be driven by a poor relationship between the organizations' respective leaders, the NFL Players Association has filed a lawsuit against the NFL Coaches Association seeking more than $650,000. Forced to pay such an amount could cripple the fledgling NFLCA, an organization that less than a year ago showed support for the players' union during the lockout by NFL owners. The NFLCA has $308,509.69 in the bank, according to the lawsuit.
"I really can't believe that the players would sue the coaches this way," a source familiar with the lawsuit said. "This is really destructive to the relationship between the sides. This is not good for either side."
In addition, NFLCA executive director David Cornwell said his authority has been challenged in a letter from the NFLPA. Cornwell, hired by the NFLCA in February, said the NFLPA has suggested that its executive director, DeMaurice Smith, also has power over the coaches' association.
"I do not know which is more absurd, the claim that De is the Executive Director of the NFLCA or the fact that the NFLPA is blocking us from using coaches' dues money to advance the interests of coaches," Cornwell said. "Instead of working with the NFL on retirement benefits, uniform insurance, and other important issues for NFL coaches, now we have to incur real debt to deal with De Smith and the NFLPA.
"De has not done anything for NFL coaches and there is no support for a continued association with the NFLPA. I think the lawsuit and the alleged debt is a smoke screen to prevent the NFLCA from breaking away from the NFLPA."
A spokesman with the NFLPA declined to comment on the matter.
Smith and Cornwell have been at odds for years. Their relationship reached a low point in January when Cornwell wrote a 14-page critique of Smith's handling of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations last year. Cornwell, who ran against Smith for the NFLPA post in 2009, concluded that Smith should be fired.
Publicly, the NFLPA congratulated Cornwell when he was hired by the NFLCA. However, the organizations have been at odds over the past month as Cornwell tried to get files and control of the NFLCA account.
"This is obviously because of the relationship between [Cornwell and Smith]," the source said.
The NFLCA had been run out of the offices of the NFLPA until the hiring of Cornwell. Over the years, the NFLPA supported the coaches' union by providing free office space and loaning it money and legal services.
Two sources said that a debt of approximately $350,000 was forgiven by former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw in early 2008, a few months before he died.
"I have seen no evidence that the NFLPA sought to collect this alleged debt when they thought De controlled the Coaches Association," Cornwell said.
The NFLCA previously made Upshaw the executive director for business purposes. After Upshaw's death, Larry Kennan remained as the head of the NFLCA, but may not officially have been named the executive director.
Although a source said Smith had not expressed interest in the NFLCA post when he took over the NFLPA, the lawsuit clearly questions the hiring of Cornwell. It's believed that Smith would assume control of the NFLCA if the lawsuit is successful.
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