Sports agents start to focus on college coaches
Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 7:00 a.m.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — No matter who raises the trophy after the BCS national title game, Jimmy Sexton wins.
Sexton may be the most powerful agent in college football. Yet he never calls press conferences, rarely agrees to interviews and most fans would be hard-pressed to come up with his name when asked to identify movers and shakers in the sports world.
On Thursday night, though, his reach will be on display. Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Texas defensive coordinator and coach designate Will Muschamp each will be on the sidelines at the Rose Bowl. Both are Sexton's clients.
It doesn't stop there. Sexton's corral of college coaches will earn in the neighborhood of $50 million in bowl payouts for their schools this season.
He has four coaches each from the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences. Another client, Tommy Tuberville, is interviewing for the Texas Tech job and he also has Phillip Fulmer, who's ready to return to coaching.
Sexton's Athletic Resource Management in Memphis makes 75 to 80 percent of its revenue representing professional players such as San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers and running back DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers.
Yet Sexton has a reputation for his work with coaches.
"We just started doing coaches really as a sidelight in the 1990s," Sexton said. "Tommy Tuberville was our first coaching client and he called one day and said, 'Hey, can you come look at my contract (as he left Mississippi for Auburn)?' We met him at the Downtown Grille in Oxford, gave him three or four ideas of things to change and he was our first client."
It's those ideas — regarded as innovative before becoming industry standard — that have helped his client list grow, though the agent says he often gets credit for others' ideas.
He helped Nick Saban become the first $4 million coach when he left the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. It was an emotional transition for Saban and the coach said his connection with Sexton made it easier.
"The biggest thing for me is the personal relationship that Jimmy has with the people that he represents," Saban said. "I just always felt like the guy legitimately cares about his clients. It's not just about the business aspects of it. He commiserates over decisions that we've made in the past as much as I do. I just think that separates him from everybody else."
Sexton helped come up with the "coach in waiting" idea, starting with Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Muschamp. Others have adopted the succession idea, most notably Kentucky, where Joker Phillips replaced for Rich Brooks this week.
"They were worried about losing him," Sexton said of Fisher, who took over for retired coach Bobby Bowden this week. "They wanted to figure out a way to do that and not lose them. We kind of said the only way you can do that is to guarantee him some way he's going to be the head coach, so that's what they did. So I guess it was partly their idea and partly ours."
Part of the reason behind Sexton's success, though, is he doesn't often talk about these clauses and the effect they have on contract terms. And he's never going to boast.
"If you get something in your contract that turns out to be really good for your client, you don't want to go all over the country bragging about it because you're going to be dealing with these people a long time," Sexton said. "It's a very small-knit fraternity of people out there you're dealing with in ADs and presidents, and some things are going to work out for you and some things are going to work out well for them."
It's that philosophy that gives Sexton an edge this time of year, when coaches are moving around. In the college world, agents are relatively new, and some athletic directors still bristle at the idea of dealing with them. Some won't even take an agent's call.
Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne recently negotiated a contract extension for basketball coach Rick Stansbury with Sexton, the first extensive time he's spent with an agent.
"He certainly has a lot of influence on the marketplace, and that's why I think it's so important that you're able to have conversations with your coach one on one, understanding that at some point you're going to have to talk with an agent," Byrne said.
Sexton has gained a reputation as a problem solver who takes into account a school's needs. Twice he's replaced one client with another, first at Tennessee last year when Fulmer was fired and replaced by Lane Kiffin, and this year at Memphis where Larry Porter took over for Tommy West.
Each situation was delicate and difficult. Yet in each case he was able to help both the university and his clients.
"He is very good at being aggressive for his clients but being respectful of the institution at the same time," Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said. "When you're dealing with an agent as an athletic director, you're not always going to see eye to eye. But the thing he and I have always had because we've known each other so long is the ability to speak very frankly with each other about those things and come to some kind of middle ground that makes since for the university and for the clients he's representing."
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