Larry Keenan no longer runs the NFL Coaches Association out of his house. He has moved from the Boston area to Montgomery County, commutes into downtown Washington daily to an office provided by the NFL Players Association, and is working under a five-year contract as executive director.
The group was formed in 1996 to address concerns with the NFL about the welfare of assistant coaches on myriad issues such as health and life insurance benefits, severance pay and pension plans.
Keenan's last coaching job was as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots under Bill Parcells. He has now almost totally devoted his life to improving the lot of his former colleagues, and he said in an interview last week that, slowly but surely, progress is being made.
In recent months, the NFL voted to double life insurance benefits and also has given assistants standard health and medical care under the NFL's employee plan. Before, each team had its own policy, with some better than others, and Keenan said the new system is a great improvement for most of the association's 400-plus members, including 13 head coaches.
"They say they're still working on lowering the retirement age from 65 and giving us a severance package, maybe in the form of a 401K plan," Keenan said. "There are very few of us working as coaches at 65. When you get up to that age, they'll fire you but they don't rehire you. They [league owners] agree, they just can't decide which way they want to go."
Keenan and other members started raising a number of these issues almost four years ago, and the league's benefits committee contacted Keenan only last January to begin formally working on some of the problems assistants continue to face in an extremely unstable profession.
The association has no plans to form a union, though the NFLPA does provide office space and some support personnel. Among the head coaches who have paid their $500 a year dues are Bill Parcells, Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil, Jim Mora, Dennis Green and Dan Reeves.
Three teams--New Orleans, Dallas and Cincinnati--have made it known to their coaches they do not want them to join the association. "It's implied that if they do, they'll be fired," Keenan said. "But I think the league recognizes that all of this is in the best interest of everyone. I think they're finally trying to do what's right."
No Backup Jets
Think Jets Coach Bill Parcells wouldn't like to have a couple of do-overs on decisions involving backup quarterbacks over the past two years?
Two years ago, Parcells ditched veteran Neil O'Donnell because of his high salary. And last year, backup Glenn Foley was moved out when Vinny Testaverde arrived.
This past Sunday, O'Donnell started for the Tennessee Titans in place of Steve McNair, who is out for five weeks after having back surgery on Sunday. O'Donnell, a former Maryland star, completed 31 of 40 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown in a 26-9 victory over Cleveland.
Foley started for Seattle Sunday and led the Seahawks to a 14-13 victory over the Chicago Bears. Foley was 18 for 30 for 283 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Rick Mirer, making his first start in place of the injured Testaverde, was 13 for 28 for 121 yards and no touchdowns. The only good news--no interceptions, just like O'Donnell and Foley.
Ex-Skycap Riding High
Happiest linebacker in the league has to be Oakland's K.D. Williams. A year ago, Williams was working as a skycap back home in Tampa, checking bags at the airport. He was cut by the Dallas Cowboys in training camp, picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs, then cut again after spending some time on the team's practice squad.
Williams was not drafted out of Henderson State, but spent three seasons in the Canadian Football League, making the all-star team in '96. He began working at the airport in '97, then went back last year after leaving Kansas City.
"Being that skycap taught me more about respect and discipline than anything," he said. "I'm out of football and I had to live the straight and narrow. I didn't have much and I was living on a fixed income. It taught me that when I get my chance, I had to put everything into it. It was a blessing in disguise.
"Right now, I'm fulfilling every man's dream who was in my situation. A year ago, I was sitting at home, watching on TV. Here I am, a year ago, sitting down. And a year from that, I'm starting in the NFL."
Williams had four tackles and a sack last week in the Raiders' 22-17 road victory over Minnesota, which was held to only 34 yards on the ground. . . .
Though he's still backing up Randall Cunningham in Minnesota, Jeff George hasn't tempered his assessment of his own checkered career.
"In my mind, I'm one of the top five quarterbacks in the league," George said recently. "I'm not ashamed to tell anybody that."
A Bust on the Bay
San Francisco running back Lawrence Phillips, a terror in his NFL Europe comeback last spring, has been a major bust since signing as a free agent. He had two carries for two yards Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. . . . There's already some dissension in Minnesota over new offensive coordinator Ray Sherman's reluctance to go deep very often, a strange strategy when Randy Moss is on your side. Sherman was fired after one year in Pittsburgh in the same job when the Steelers had the same problem. . . .
There's a decided Michigan look to the AFC West, with 60 percent of the starting quarterbacks Wolverines--Jim Harbaugh in San Diego, Elvis Grbac in Kansas City and Brian Griese in Denver.