Union Readying to Launch Search For Upshaw's Successor
The NFL Players Association is making plans to launch a search for an executive director aimed at identifying a replacement for the late Gene Upshaw early next year, sources said today.
Players on the union's 10-member executive committee hope to meet via conference call tonight or Tuesday to discuss the possibility of putting the search in motion, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Players Association leaders have not addressed the matter publicly.
Upshaw, the union's executive director for 25 years, died last Wednesday night at a home that he owned in California near Lake Tahoe, three days after going to a nearby hospital for tests that led to him being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On Thursday, members of the executive committee met via conference call and chose Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, to serve as interim executive director.
Before his death, Upshaw had spoken to members of the executive committee about the process they should follow to choose his successor after his planned retirement. Upshaw advised the players to form a search committee consisting of members of the executive committee. He told the players that the search committee should hire an outside search firm to identify candidates from both inside and outside the sport, and then the search committee should conduct interviews to pare the list of candidates to a few finalists to be presented to the full executive committee for an election.
The debate prior to Upshaw's death was over when the process would be launched. Some players were pushing to replace Upshaw next March, when the union holds its annual meetings, or at least to have his eventual successor identified by then. Upshaw was vowing to remain as executive director until the current set of labor negotiations with the NFL's team owners was completed. He also did not want his successor identified until after he retired.
Now the process probably will be put into motion immediately with a search firm being hired and a search committee being formed with the hope of electing the new executive director in March. One player familiar with the deliberations said today it's possible that the union's new leader even will be identified around Jan. 1, giving him an extra few months before the March election to delve into the labor negotiations and other issues. Time is a factor in the labor talks. In May, the owners exercised a reopener clause in their labor deal with the players, making the 2010 season the final one in the agreement and the 2009 season the final one with a salary cap. Upshaw often had said he expected the owners to consider a lockout of the players in 2011.
It's not clear if Berthelsen will be a candidate for the job. One player said today that Berthelsen has made it clear to members of the executive committee he doesn't want to be considered. The player said he expects Berthelsen to retire next year. Several players say they expect former players Troy Vincent, Trace Armstrong and Robert Smith to be strong candidates. Armstrong and Smith were close allies of Upshaw. The once-close relationship between Upshaw and Vincent had deteriorated in recent months, and Vincent no longer had a formal role in the union after his term as president expired last March.
But he continues to have support within the ranks of player representatives, and one player said today he thinks the choice will come down to Armstrong or Vincent. Armstrong also is a former president of the union.
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