Friday, April 25, 2008

This superagent is the real deal


With a personal touch, Cornrich represents the best of his business 

By Jodie Valade

March 30, 2008

Beachwood-born Neil Cornrich has gained a reputation of being a top sports agent. Says Robert Smith, former OSU star: “His creativity and intelligence are why his contracts end up being better than anybody else’s.” Photo: Scott Shaw | Plain Dealer

In the beginning, Neil Cornrich wasn't always so smooth or savvy or worthy of the label of superagent to the stars of the football coaching world.

Fresh out of Ohio State's law school, and only a handful of years removed from his University of Michigan science degree, the man who is now praised as profoundly personable hung up on his first client.

It wasn't because Cornrich didn't want to represent Kirk Lowdermilk, the Ohio State center projected to be drafted in the early rounds of the 1985 NFL draft. It was because the Beachwood-born and -based Cornrich simply didn't believe his good fortune. He thought his friend David Medich, another Buckeyes football player, was playing a prank on him when the voice on the phone said it was Lowdermilk, and he wanted Cornrich to represent him.

“Dave, I’m busy,” Cornrich scoffed before slamming down the phone.

It rang again.

“Uh, this is Kirk Lowdermilk,” the voice said again. “I’d like to meet with you.”

Cornrich doesn’t know why Lowdermilk called back after that first hang-up, or why he didn’t hang up on his first client a second time. Or why Lowdermilk wanted to take a chance on an unproven and untested recent law school graduate to manage his life’s worth.

Lowdermilk, as far as he can remember 23 years later, just had a feeling.

Simple as that.

“Neil was young, but you could tell he was a very quality, stand-up person,” Lowdermilk says. “He’s a very trustworthy person, and in this business you’d better have somebody you can count on to give you good advice.”

Lowdermilk might have been the first, but in the years since that signing, the 50-year-old Cornrich has become one of the most coveted sports agents around. 

He is particularly sought by college football coaches who seem to pass his name around like a favorite, from one to the other until most of the top names have his number on speed dial. 

They want him to tell teams how much money they deserve, find clever ways to earn incentives, and see the whole negotiating process in his fresh, inventive way.

Lowdermilk was the first to put full faith in Cornrich when the agent told his only client not to report to Minnesota’s training camp after the Vikings drafted him. Cornrich calculated that Lowdermilk deserved more than Minnesota was offering, based on contracts others in similar situations had signed.

Cornrich’s first client took his first big gamble in 1985, missing the first 10 days of training camp.

Keeping a close watch on all the negotiations was Ohio State offensive line coach Glen Mason, who was skeptical of Lowdermilk’s decision to hire the inexperienced Cornrich.

“Do you know what the heck you’re doing?” Mason asked the agent.

“Trust me,” Cornrich said.

“Neil was right,” Mason says now.

“He’s very smart. I don’t think he blinks easily. He does his homework and has a firm belief of what someone’s going to demand in the market.”

Lowdermilk’s contract when he finally signed with the Vikings included a $210,000 signing bonus, far ahead of other Minnesota draft picks, including second-round pick Issiac Holt, who earned $85,000 for signing.

But the greater impact that signing made was instilling Mason’s faith in Cornrich. The coach then hired the agent to represent him, and that was when Cornrich discovered the untapped market that he has cornered now: agent to coaches.

When Mason needed help with his head coaching contract at Kansas, he consulted with Cornrich. Then, with word-of-mouth recommendations, the snowball began to grow, and coaches — college coaches in particular — began hiring Cornrich to represent them.

“The word ‘agent’ used to be a bad word in our business,” Mason says. “When I first used Neil, I said, ‘I have an attorney. He’s an attorney who represents my legal interest.’ Now, everybody’s got agents — assistant coaches, everyone.” 

Almost everyone with any kind of Ohio connection ends up as a Cornrich client, including Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops (from Youngstown), Arizona coach Mike Stoops (from Youngstown), Nebraska coach Bo Pelini (also from Youngstown), Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (former Browns assistant coach), and on the pro level, the Patriots’ Bill Belichick (former Browns coach).

Cornrich and Memphis-based agent Jimmy Sexton represent the bulk of major college coaches in an era where salaries routinely top $1 million annually, and are as high as the $6 million Bob Stoops will receive this year — with the help of a Cornrich-negotiated $3 million bonus earned for his 10th season coaching the Sooners.

“He’s had coaches hire him who have never met him, they just hire him over the telephone,” says Sidney Cornrich, Neil’s father and a lawyer who shares their Beachwood office at Cornrich & Cornrich LPA. “He didn’t start writing letters to every coach in the country saying he wants to represent him.”

He collects athletes with Ohio ties, too, though in smaller numbers, including former Ohio State players such as Miami Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn Jr., New England linebacker Mike Vrabel, Buffalo safety Donte Whitner and retired Minnesota running back Robert Smith.

That is in addition to the other Northeast Ohio clients he has, a list that includes Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Browns defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, and Browns general manager Phil Savage.

The one blemish on Cornrich’s record is a one-year NFL Player’s Association mandated suspension in 2005-06, a year he couldn’t negotiate NFL contracts as punishment for serving as an expert witness against the estate of former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas.

Cornrich was paid $1,000 per hour by General Motors to testify in a deposition what Thomas’ earning capacity would have been had he not been killed in a car accident in 2000. Another high-profile NFL agent, Leigh Steinberg, testified on behalf of the Thomas estate.

“Simply from the perspective of an agent testifying against a player, a deceased player, there are some issues there,” NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw said then. “It is upsetting that he got paid $1,000 an hour to do it.”

Cornrich says now that he learned from the experience, and is particularly more aware of how consideration of the NFLPA must influence his decisions.

“In retrospect, I wish I would have spoken to the NFLPA once General Motors requested my expert opinion. . . . I should have been more sensitive to the Association’s views of my involvement as an agent,” Cornrich says.

Despite the transgression, players and coaches alike, from Ohio and outside the state, continue to seek out Cornrich because of his undeniable results. His contracts — like the recent extension making Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark the highest paid at his position — are consistently among the top paying.

“He has a very unique approach and thinks about things differently,” says Smith, a former OSU star. “His creativity and intelligence are why his contracts end up being better than anybody else’s.” 

Smith’s rookie year in 1993 was the first of a new collective bargaining agreement for the NFL. Smith says Cornrich’s understanding of the CBA led to both him and another client — San Francisco defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield — signing two-year contracts instead of longer-term deals that would have locked them into their original deals — a move that was innovative at the time.

“That’s something that the union didn’t even consider,” Smith said. “It was an unprecedented deal, an unprecedented change in the collective bargaining agreement.”

Cornrich is more proud of his successful challenge of Smith’s “franchise player” designation by Minnesota in 1997, a challenge that allowed the running back to become a free agent after two years instead of chaining him to the Vikings.

“There were some anxious moments negotiating that,” remembers Jeff Diamond, then the Vikings general manager and now CEO of the Ingram Group, a consulting firm in Nashville, Tenn.

“[But] whenever I dealt with Neil, it was never antagonistic. He was always creative, he was innovative, he was willing to work with me on different ideas.”

Once, Diamond says, Cornrich even negotiated from a prone position — stretched out flat in a hotel after his back went out. Diamond laughs at the memory.

“He keeps things at an even keel, and it doesn’t get overly intense,” Diamond says. “He’s the kind of guy you can have some fun with when you’re talking to him.”

Athletes and coaches also praise Cornrich’s personal touch, an approach that leads him to call his clients “friends” — a sentiment they echo. For instance, former Ohio State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer stopped playing football after suffering a neck injury with the Patriots in 2001, but his mother, Diane, still calls Cornrich a couple of times a month.

“When you meet somebody exceptional and you find that you have a great deal in common with that person, and you agree on a philosophy of life, that person needs to be a friend,” Diane Katzenmoyer says.

And when Sidney Cornrich threw his son a surprise 50th birthday party last year, coaches and athletes from across the country flew to Cleveland to celebrate. “A lot of guys need a friend when they hire an agent,” Vrabel says. “I knew I had enough friends, and I needed a really good agent. But that said, we are friends.”

Clients as friends isn’t always unique among agents, but Cornrich’s clients still say there is something different about their agent.

Smith also serves on the NFLPA’s committee for agent regulation and discipline, and has seen first-hand other issues with agents.

“We’ve had cases where agents are the worst stereotype,” Smith says, “and he’s about as far as you can get from that.”


Neil Cornrich, NC Sports cornering the market on tight ends

April 24, 2008

Football agent Neil Cornrich, who heads NC Sports in Beachwood, is starting to corner the bull market on NFL tight ends.

One of Cornrich's tight-end clients - Dallas Clark of Indianapolis - recently became the highest-paid TE in NFL history (six years, $41.8 million).

Another Cornrich tight end - Matt Spaeth of Pittsburgh - had a solid rookie season in 2007 and is being pegged as a future Pro Bowler.

And a third - former University of Virginia star Tom Santi - has become a fast-rising prospect for this weekend's NFL Draft.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Don Davis' Playbook: Faith and football

Former Pats player delivers message to Greenland

By Dave Choate

April 8, 2008

GREENLAND — Former New England Patriots player and current assistant coach Don Davis joined more than 500 men and boys at the Bethany Church Monday for a talk which revolved around faith and football.

A linebacker for 11 seasons in the National Football League, Davis is the assistant strength and conditioning coach and team chaplain for the Patriots. He brought his focus on being a strong and kind Christian to Greenland, mixing biblical passages and lessons with jokes and answers about the faith of NFL players, such as All-Pro Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

In a speech and question-and-answer session that spanned about an hour, Davis talked about a teammate on the Patriots who partied the night before the Super Bowl, ruining his first and only chance to get into a game for the team and comparing it to the biblical example of Esau trading his birthright to Jacob for food. The lesson, he said, is for men to exercise wisdom as they go about their daily lives.

"Don't trade future blessings for temporary pleasures," he told the audience.

Davis also urged the audience to display brotherly love toward one another, noting that many males are conditioned to "suck it up" and avoid sharing feelings or struggles. He said the men in the audience should instead support and love one another in order to strengthen the bonds of their faith and answered the biblical question of, "Am I my brother's keeper?" with a resounding "yes."

Volunteers at the program also helped contribute to the sports atmosphere by launching T-shirts with Davis' name and number — 51 — from his playing days into the crowd.

Steve Aslin of Hampton said he was impressed and moved by Davis' talk.

"He's great. Just coming from St. Louis, a team that had a solid group of Christians, and becoming the Christian leader for (the Patriots) is great," Aslin said.

Davis was in town through the efforts of the New England chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The speech was part of a long-running project by the church called First Monday for Men, which brings men from Bethany and other churches together once a month for faith-based programs.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hauschka Honored by National Football Foundation

April 10, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. - NC State placekicker Steven Hauschka, who connected on 95% of his kicks last season, has been honored by the National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Hall of Fame as a member of the 2008 NFF Hampshire Honor Society. This society is comprised of college football players from all divisions of play who maintained a 3.2 GPA or better.

Qualifications for membership into this year’s inaugural NFF Honor Society include being a starter or significant substitute in the last year of eligibility at an accredited NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, Football Championship Subdivision, Division II, Division III or NAIA college or university; achieving a 3.2 cumulative grade point average throughout the entire course of undergraduate study; and meeting all NCAA-mandated progress towards degree requirements.

Hauschka, who connected on all 25 of his extra point attempts last season, was named the receipient of the ACC's Weaver-James-Corrigan Honorary Award earlier this spring. The Needham, Mass, native was a first-team Academic All-ACC performer following the 2007 campaign as well.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dallas Clark a Great Fit with Colts

By John Oehser

April 4, 2008

Clark Happy to Have Long-Term Deal with Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – He hoped it would work out, thought it would work out, and overall, he had a pretty strong feeling things would turn out for the best.

But Dallas Clark didn’t know for sure.

So, Clark – the Colts’ sixth-year tight end – never assumed in January and early February he would sign a long-term deal, and although he assumed he would be with the franchise next season, he never assumed the Colts would make him part of their core, and ensure his place on the team for the next several years.

And then they did.

Which is one reason Clark is back at the Colts’ practice facility this week.

And it’s one of the reasons he’s smiling.

“I can’t imagine playing for another team other than the Colts,” Clark said early Friday afternoon as the Colts wrapped up the first week of their 2008 voluntary off-season conditioning program.

“This is home – the community, the people of Indianapolis, the whole Colts organization . . . I couldn’t imagine (playing anywhere else). This is a great fit.”

Clark, the Colts’ first-round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this past season. A few days before the start of the new league year, the Colts designated him their franchise player, ensuring he would be with the team through the 2008 season.

A day later, the Colts announced they had signed him to a long-term extension.

“I’m very excited,” Clark said. “It’s one of those things that you understand going in – that the whole thing is business. In the five years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of good players go. I know that the Colts didn’t want to get rid of people, but sometimes you have to.

“It’s one of those things where there’s no such thing as ‘Guaranteed.’ We really didn’t know what was going to happen. The dedication to it on both parts, it was just a really smooth process.”

Clark said Colts President Bill Polian and Clark’s agent, Neil Cornrich, made the process as efficient as possible, and said that because of the franchise tag, he never worried extensively about his immediate future.

“Early on, we always had that franchise tag,” Clark said. “It was one of those things where we felt like we were going to be here another year. They came out right away and said, ‘We’re going to franchise Dallas.’ That being said, it was kind of nice, because either we got a contract done or we didn’t, but we knew we were going to be here another year. It wasn’t one of those true scenarios where if we don’t get a deal done we might not be playing here.

“We knew it was either going to be a one-year franchise tag or getting a long-term deal. That took a lot of the stress out. We were able to kind of know we were going to be here for one more year. We wanted to get a long-term done, but we didn’t know what the Colts’ situation was, but both Neil and Bill did an outstanding job getting it done.”

That it got done, Clark said, was something of a humbling experience.

The Colts in recent seasons have approached free agency with the philosophy that re-signing their own players is the priority. During that same time, the team has opted to not re-sign other key players.

Being among the players the team opted to re-sign, Clark said, was not a designation he takes lightly.

“It’s one of those things that they’re a lot of great guys on this team,” Clark said. “This is a day and age where teams can’t keep a lot of great players and the Colts have done a great job of doing that,” Clark said. “It’s a credit to (Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy), Bill (Polian) and (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Mr. (Jim) Irsay. You hope you fit in that equation and that’s what they see, but that’s their job and it’s their decision.

“When they did show the interest in keeping me, it’s truly an honor.”

It’s an honor that enabled the Colts to retain a player who has developed into a key part of the offense in five seasons, and a player who had the best season of his career last season.

Clark, who has 179 receptions for 2,234 yards and 25 touchdowns in five seasons, caught a career-high 58 passes – nearly double his previous career high of 30 – last season for 616 yards and 11 touchdowns, each of which also was a career high.

The 11 touchdowns and 58 receptions set franchise records for tight ends.

Clark said he doubts the numbers would be the same with another franchise, and said that was a huge reason he entered the off-season hoping things would work out, and thinking they would work out, even if he didn’t know for sure.

“It works, and it’s outstanding, because the guys here make me better,” Clark said. “I know I wouldn’t be the player I am today if I didn’t have Peyton (Manning) as a quarterback and if didn’t have (former Colts tight end Marcus) Pollard my first two years here to learn everything from and if I didn’t have (wide receivers Brandon) Stokley, Reggie (Wayne) and Marv (Marvin Harrison), watching those guys run routes every day.

“Having that core of guys, I’m very fortunate to be here and to be able to fit into this offense. I didn’t know what other offense I’d fit in, but I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that.

“I know how this system works and what we need to do to win and I’ll try to do my part.”

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Smith, WNBA promote child literacy

“You just want them to have an opportunity to have as much success in their lives,” says WNBA player Katie Smith of the importance of reading for children.


April 8, 2008

TAMPA - It isn't every day that stretch limousines park outside the John F. Germany Public Library downtown.

Then again, it isn't every day that stars from the Women's National Basketball Association visit the library to read to students.

The players, along with corporate executives from the league and Pitney Bowes and Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair, read Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who!" on Monday afternoon with nearly 80 students from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.

The students hung on every word.

"It was cool," said Isiah Archer, who sat in a tight reading circle with league president Donna Orender and other students.

"Reading can help you learn a lot," said Isiah, 9, a fourth-grader at Just Elementary. "They read a lot. That is how they can read the playbooks and the strategies and score all those points."

The league and Pitney Bowes, a Connecticut-based company that provides technology for corporate and business mailing, announced Monday that they are working together to promote a national literacy program for school-age children.

The athletes said they think their time with the students can help them appreciate reading and turn it into a passion.

Katie Smith, a player with the Detroit Shock, said she hopes children can see that it is more than just homework.

"You just want them to have an opportunity to have as much success in their lives," said Smith, who has won a league championship and has been named to the All-Star team. "And it starts now and reading is the foundation."

Isiah said he likes to read about bugs and athletes, but he also enjoyed meeting the players and getting their autographs.

"I like watching basketball," the youngster said. "But something better than watching basketball on TV is meeting the players in real life."

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hauschka Number One Ranked Kicker on Rivals

April 7, 2008

By Frank Coyle


This group is just an average class with no more than three draftable prospects - all beyond the top-125 rankings.

Brandon Coutu, Art Carmody, and Alexis Serna could all be second-day selections.

Hauschka only kicked one season in college but proved to be a valuable late-bloomer. Coutu is capable of playing multiple roles, while Carmody and Serna have shown to be more reliable place-kickers.

Place Kicker Rankings

1. Steven Hauschka, 6-4, 212, North Carolina State
Powerful kicker completed was excellent in only his first year of play. Hauschka is an accurate kicker who responded well to pressure and has the talent to improve with further experience.

2. Art Carmody, 5-9, 170, Louisville
Carmody is an accurate place-kicker who has been a very reliable performer in clutch situations. He was not used as a kickoff man and has only marginal leg strength for that duty.

3. Taylor Mehlhaff, 5-10, 185, Wisconsin

4. Shane Longest, 5-10, 180, Saint Xavier (Ill.)

5. Brandon Coutu, 5-11, 185, Georgia

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dawson's famous kick changes NFL rules

March 29, 2008

By Tony Grossi

As the Browns gain respect on the field, their games take on just a little more prominence with NFL rules-makers.

The Browns were involved in two high-profile game situations last season that contributed to the discussion of rules changes. One change would make field goals allowable to be reviewed by instant replay and another would eliminate the force-out rule.

When coaches filled out their annual surveys about potential changes or concerns and the league competition committee analyzed them to formulate proposals, the Browns players who kept popping up on the video reviews were Phil Dawson and Kellen Winslow.

Dawson, of course, kicked one of the most famous field goals in recent NFL history at the end of regulation time against Baltimore on Nov. 18.

Field officials originally were split on the 51-yard kick -- one signaled no good and another demurred. The Ravens danced off the field in celebration. Browns coach Romeo Crennel shook hands with Ravens coach Brian Billick, thinking his team had lost.

But the call was reversed after referee Pete Morelli had a lengthy discussion with the two officials stationed under the goalposts. He also conferred with the NFL communicator in the replay booth.

Supposedly, Morelli was asking whether or not the play was subject to replay review, and was told it was not. To this day, team officials in Baltimore believe that Morelli was told to reverse the call because replays clearly showed that Dawson's kick cleared the crossbar before bouncing off the gooseneck support bar -- the Dawson Bar -- and caroming back through the posts.

If Morelli would have followed the letter of the law and not allowed the game-tying field goal, the Browns would have had no recourse to challenge it.

The new rule would allow most field goals -- but not all of them -- to be reviewed.

"You would be allowed to review any kick that involves going under or over the crossbar, and inside or outside of the upright," said Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons president and co-chair of the rules committee. "The only kicks that would not be deemed reviewable is if the officials determine the ball had gone over the top of the upright, then like college, where they have specifically excluded that from review, so would we."

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