Hunley spends time upstairs

7-12-04, 4:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Ricky Hunley looked to his left and there was former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh knitting together the history of the game.

Hunley looked to his right and there was Colts general manager Bill Polian crunching the numbers of the game.

He looked right in front of him, and there were Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Harold Henderson, NFL executive vice president of Labor Relations and chairman of the NFL Management Council, shaping the future of the game.

And then Hunley began to realize it.

He was the only one.

And it had nothing to do with race, or class, or three-down backers.

In a glittering gathering of NFL power brokers, Hunley was the only active coach assigned to the recent NFL-Stanford Program for Managers.

"I can't tell you," Hunley said, "how many times I heard the name Paul Brown. It shows you we're not just a team on the rise, but we've had a lot to do with how the NFL has developed."

Hunley, 42, is a guy who makes no pretenses abut getting on the fast track. His goal is to be a NFL head coach, and he came close to taking a big step last season when he was one of the finalists for the top job at his college alma mater of Arizona.

Hunley read about the league's second trip to the Stanford Graduate School of Business and its agenda that is designed to broaden understanding of team and NFL management. A club designates one employee to attend the seminar that focuses on "the enhancement of skills in finance, marketing, personnel, and negotiation."

Last year, the Bengals sent controller Johanna Kappner. Hunley ran the idea of his participation this year by Lewis.

"A lot of people who were there noticed that I was the only coach and I think it says a lot about people like Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis," said Hunley of his owner and head coach. "When you have people behind you that really mean what they say instead of just lip service, it makes a big difference."

After talking with Brown and Lewis, Hunley got the nod for Stanford and his mind is still spinning over the 6 a.m. sessions and the nightly homework of bulging case studies. A sampling of the class list isn't exactly Basket Weaving with
Salary Cap Management; Team Economics and Stadium Management; Foundations of Team Effectiveness; Marketing/Branding Principles; Negotiation Frameworks and Applications; Globalization Challenges in Sports, and Sponsorship Challenges and Athletes.

"I was surprised at how much money goes into running a NFL team," said Hunley, after the seminar studied the financial records of the publicly-owned Green Bay Packers. "How much money goes into benefits (on top of salaries) surprised me.

"The way the league is now, if you're going to a head coach, you have to know a little bit about everything from a business standpoint," Hunley said.

Hunley's situation is one of the reasons Lewis has been recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of pro sports most influential minorities. Hunley is an African-American and watched Lewis work through the ranks, and Lewis has been adamant in not restricting any of his coaches in their career plans. Black or white.

"This wasn't a minority conference or anything like that," Hunley said. "But, obviously, if I do go in for an interview, being exposed to something like this is going to help me prepare that much better for the opportunity."

Hunley also found Polian's salary cap presentation extremely intriguing. It hammered home what Lewis has been talking about since he became head coach 19 months ago.

"As coaches and as an organization, you have to put the right value on players or you're going to get in trouble very quickly," Hunley said. "It's so important to find the character guys. You have to do your homework and you have to be sure that it is your kind of player and he's going to give you what you need because of the economics. You pay for a mistake for a long time"

Hunley also enjoyed listening to Walsh, the Paul Brown disciple who joined his mentor in the Hall of Fame.

"Bill mentioned Paul when he talked about organization," Hunley said. "He also talked about when he had a (maverick) like Hollywood Henderson and how you really can't treat guys all that differently. You show them respect, but you have to be consistent."

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