Sunday slant: Wilf puts Vikings at ease

Tensions are high around the league over the effects of a potential lockout, but Vikings owner Zygi Wilf put his employees at ease by committing to their paychecks in lean times.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was proactive and productive in his ability to put his staff at ease during uncertain times in the NFL.

Wilf called an all-staff meeting a few weeks ago to assure his employees, including coaches and scouts, that they will be paid during a potential NFL work stoppage.

"With all the uncertainty in the league right now, our ownership, the Wilf family, came in a few weeks ago and addressed all of our employees, coaches, and wanted to assure them of how concerned they were for the Vikings employees' well-being during this uncertain time," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "Because so many had voiced concerns, wondering what was going to happen here in Minnesota as they were reading different things in different places, the Wilf family assured all the Vikings' employees, including the coaches, there were not going to be any layoffs, there were not going to be any pay cuts, that they would circle back at some point and discuss what would happen down the line. But there's no imminent desire or concern to lay people off or make people take pay cuts."

That isn't the case for all teams.

Larry Kennan, the director of the NFL Coaches Association, said that teams are addressing the lockout issue with their coaches in different manners. Some plan to scale back coaching salaries at the start of a lockout, other coaches will have their salary reduced by 25 percent 30 days after the start of a lockout and other teams won't implement salary reductions until 60 days or more after the anticipated lockout on March 4. In some cases, the lost salary could be recouped, but some teams are even considering terminating the contracts of assistant coaches when a lockout starts, Kennan said, and other teams have already begun laying off employees.

To hear Kennan tell it, the recent treatment of NFL coaches would indicated that the respect is eroding, at least when looking at the financial pullbacks over the years. The insertion of lockout clauses in coaching contracts, which started about three years ago, is just one of the issues.

Wilf made a strong, positive impression on Frazier and the coaching staff by assuring them of his support.

"I'm like, ‘Wow. That's a big deal now.' You're talking about boosting morale, just what it did for coaches, for people that work in marketing or people that work in other departments, whoever it is," Frazier said. "That to me just reinforced in my mind why this in a lot of ways is the best job in the league – because they didn't have to do that in these uncertain times. … To be willing to do that, man, to call a special meeting and for the Wilf family to make that announcement, that's newsworthy in these times."

Over the years, the NFL and teams have slowly pulled back on coaching benefits even while their salaries have risen.

In March 2009, owners voted to make coaching pensions non-mandatory. Since then, 12 teams have opted out of the pensions for coaches, which has been in effect for decades.

"It was a total shock to us that it happened. They had a Sunday night meeting with the head coaches, telling them that they needed them to be with the owners in this fight with the players and then the next morning (owners) voted to make non-mandatory the pension," Kennan said. "It shocked the head coaches. I've never seen the head coaches (that angry) at that point in time. They were highly incensed that they hadn't even been told about it."

The Vikings were not among the teams that pulled away from supporting their coaches' pensions, according to Kennan.

Kennan estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the coaches in the league have a lockout clause in their contract. Frazier said he wasn't privy to the contract details of all of his coaches, but he said any worries about that were quickly eliminated with Wilf's address to the team.

"The good thing about what had happened uniformly around the league, our ownership came in and all that stuff is null and void. It's done. They told us that we're going to not lay people off, we're not going to cause you to have to take a pay cut no time in the near future. And that put a lot of people's mind at ease," Frazier said. "You hear different things with different organizations, and you know coaches talk and other employees talk with other friends around the league. ‘What's your team doing? What's your organization doing?' So, for our staff and our organization to know that's not something being discussed, it really jumpstarts morale and gets everybody to focus on the now, as opposed to talking about what's going to happen. You talk about getting ready for the draft, getting ready for the combine – now your energy can be on that, rather than worrying about what the newspaper is saying about what is possibly going to happen. So, it's a big deal when you're trying to get things turned around like we are."

Kennan said 20 to 22 teams are treating their coaches "very well," but the difference in attitudes among the teams has the coaches association investigating the possibilities of unionizing after a collective bargaining agreement is reached.

While pensions are a concern, the more immediate need for the coaches is to avoid a salary reduction that could be implemented in the days, weeks and months following a lockout.

"The players are affected because they miss some roster bonuses and some workout bonuses," Kennan said, "but they don't miss salary in March, April, May. Coaches will lose salaries starting in March."

Frazier said the Wilfs' concern for their employees extends well beyond the coaches.

"They're concerned about the lady who answers the phone at the front desk. They want her to be confident that the Vikings are going to do right by her along with others, and you don't see that all the time in sports. I just wanted to share that. It meant a lot for me," Frazier said.

"… Just the fact that the Vikings are taking this approach, it really makes you feel like you're working for a first-class organization. So, it's a big deal."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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