Cornwell ascends to head of NFLCA

The NFL Players Association offered congratulations Wednesday to David Cornwell for becoming the new head of the league’s coaches association.

No kind words are forthcoming from Cornwell about NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

During a Tuesday night Sirius XM NFL radio appearance with me and co-host Ross Tucker, Cornwell ripped Smith for the job he did last year negotiating the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFLPA and the league.

“I’m concerned about a leadership approach that seems to be infected by deception,” Cornwell said. “Similarly in the collective bargaining process, it seemed to be infected by a lack of preparation that was kind of glossed over by spin. I think the National Football League deserves more and better.”

Cornwell is particularly upset about a “side-letter” NFLPA agreement that allowed the NFL to suspend select players who committed violations of the league’s conduct policy during the lockout while not punishing others. One of the offenders was Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson, who hired Cornwell as his attorney.

Benson had been arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge for a second consecutive offseason. He served a one-game NFL suspension in October.

Cornwell and Benson both said Smith has never returned their calls to provide an explanation for the disciplinary side agreement. At one point, Benson tried to fight the NFL’s punishment by filing a complaint against the NFLPA with the National Labor Relations Board.

“It is unfortunate, but unfortunate things in life happen,” Benson told me and Tucker on Sirius. “They happen in the business world as well. It’s just something you put in the memory bank.”

Cornwell also accused Smith of being deceptive in the handling of the five-game suspension that the NFL gave Oakland Raiders rookie quarterback and client Terrelle Pryor. The league claimed that Pryor had undermined “the integrity of the eligibility rules” with his filing to enter the NFL’s supplemental draft.

Cornwell avers that Smith accepted the NFL suspension terms without his blessing or that of Pryor.

“It was something De worked out directly with the commissioner [Roger Goodell],” Cornwell said. “Then (Smith) made efforts to dissuade us from appealing the decision.”

The NFLPA declined comment to about Cornwell’s statements.

Earlier this month, Cornwell sent a lengthy memo to NFL player agents lobbying against Smith’s reelection as executive director when the NFLPA holds a vote in late March at its annual meeting in Naples, Fla. Cornwell, who unsuccessfully ran against Smith in 2008, said he will not seek that office.

“I’m focused on the coaches,” Cornwell said. “The players, they decided about my eligibility when they didn’t give me the job the first time. I think that’s just not on the horizon at all for David Cornwell, but that doesn’t mean it’s not on the horizon for someone else who could do an excellent job in that role.”

Cornwell’s hiring may add further friction to a strained working relationship between the NFLPA and NFL Coaches Association. The NFLPA has supported the group and even housed the NFLCA’s offices inside its Washington, D.C. headquarters. The NFLCA, though, appears to have little interest in following the NFLPA’s request to unionize rather than remain a trade organization that currently carries limited gravitas with NFL management.

“The nature of the (NFLPA-NFLCA) relationship will be dictated by the nature of the mutual interests – if any,” Cornwell said. “I can tell you that I can see a clear path to addressing the issues of the coaches without relying on the players association. Frankly, I think we probably need to learn to walk on our own two feet now.

“I’ve heard a lot over the years because I’ve been involved about the issue of unionizing coaches. I’ve never really gotten it. My sense is that you don’t need to be unionized to be unified. There are lots of cumbersome requirements that go along with being a union that don’t necessarily advance the interests of coaches … There’s nothing I’ve seen or heard that suggests we need to be a union to move the issues forward. My perception is that issue is probably more of a distraction than anything else.”

Pension and contract issues were among the biggest concerns of NFLCA members during the 13-year leadership tenure of Larry Kennan, who resigned in December for a college coaching position. Cornwell said he is anxious to meet with NFLCA members later this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis to determine other areas that need addressing.

“I don’t expect the coaches association 10 years from now to look like it does now,” Cornwell said. “We’re going to be aggressive in trying to represent the interests of the members. They’re businessmen and we’re going to approach it that way.”