The plot thickens in the ongoing saga of disgruntled NFL assistant coaches and the franchises that employ them, often at bargain basement rates.

In their quest for improved wages, health insurance, severance pay and a better pension plan, the coaches made a telling point last week during the NFL owners' meeting in Miami.It may not sound like much, but about 60 of their number purposely showed up 20 minutes late for an NFL symposium designed to help them advance their careers.

But that's because they had spent those 20 minutes in a hotel lobby listening to some tough talk from Alex Gibbs, the Broncos offensive line coach, Larry Pasquale, the Jacksonville special teams coach, and Jimmy Raye, an ex-Eagle who is now the offensive coordinator at Kansas City.

Preaching solidarity with anger and emotion, Gibbs told his fellows: "We've tried for 2 1/2 years and nothing has been done. We've reached a crossroads. If we don't do something, we'll crumble. We're playing hardball with some people with a lot more resources than we have. We've got to come together and stand up.

"I just hope that when the going gets tough, we don't run," Gibbs added. "I hope we hang in. Over the next couple of months, it's going to get ugly."

That will depend, of course, on whether the owners continue to ignore the coaches or give them a legitimate hearing.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was visibly nettled by the coaches' move.

"I think it borders on silliness to do that type of thing," he said. "We've been talking to them, and we'll continue to talk. We've changed a number of policies because of their concerns."

In truth, Tagliabue met with the coaches group once in the past, but only after they signed an agreement that the meeting never took place. The league prefers to deal with this group of timid mavericks over the phone so that very little dialogue winds up as some sort of record.

Bear in mind that the NFL, with its eight-year, $17.6 million television contract, is richer than ever these days and that the majority of assistant coaches make about $150,000 a year on average. They also lose their jobs every time their head coach is fired, which occurs often in the "win now" climate that pervades the NFL, and are forced to move to a new franchise every three years or so.

If they get hired after being fired, that is.

Mood swing. The siege mentality the Raiders have lived and lost by for the last 10 years would appear to be on the way out in Oakland.

Since the end of last season, when the team was repeatedly humiliated on its way to a 4-12 record, Al Davis has invested considerably authority in Bruce Allen, the owner's chief assistant in football matters, and Amy Trask, the club's legal counsel who may be the league's highest-ranking female executive.

Lengthly discussion have been held in-house about revamping the Raiders football and business operations, and the franchise reportedly has made a concerted effort to settle its lawsuits with Oakland and Alameda County, out of court.

In the least Raiders-like move of all, Davis has given new coach Jon Gruden, the former Eagles offensive coordinator, more authority than any head coach since John Madden. Gruden's clout includes an OK to hire his assistants.

Davis turns 69 on July 4, and if these recent moves suggest he is relaxing control of the franchise he has managed since 1965, such is hardly the case. With fewer distractions to deal with and fewer details to attend to, Davis expects to run his franchise for another 10 years, if not restore it to its past glory.

Price club. It is becoming an increasingly expensive off-season for the Denver franchise, which already has spent almost $3 million for 92 Super Bowl rings.

In further celebration of their championship season, the team will take a one-day trip to the White House on June 16, costing the club another $100,000. The team will have a private reception at a Washington hotel, meet President Clinton at 4 p.m. or so, then fly back home.

Every player who was a member of the Super Bowl XXXII team has been invited, including two free agent defectors - linebacker Allen Aldridge and guard Brian Habib.

Were that not costly enough, the Broncos also have to shell out $400,000 as part of a court settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the club by 22,000 season-ticket holders.

The fans filed the suit after the Broncos announced in Nov. 1995 would no longer be able to sell their seats on the open market. The policy changed a year later when a judge ruled that season-tickete holders could join in the class-action suit.