Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kirk Ferentz’s agent: At the top of his game

March 31, 2010

By Mike Hlas

I somehow missed this in all the March Madness madness, but the Kansas City Star’s Bill Reiter had this story earlier this month on Neil Cornrich, the longtime agent of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz.

A few excerpts, with thanks to the Star and Reiter:

He has represented — or still does, because the secrecy makes it hard to know — football coaches Bill Belichick, the Stoops brothers, Jim Leavitt, Bo Pelini, NFL players Mike Vrabel, Dallas Clark and Aaron Kampman, and many, many others.

He’s the most important sports figure you’ve never heard of, which is just the way he likes it. He rarely gives interviews, rarely allows the public to peer into his private world and, for all his cool and calm, seems a little perplexed he agreed at all to this intrusion. …

“I don’t think he ever plays the tough guy,” says Mike Wahle, a former NFL Pro Bowl guard for Carolina and Cornrich client. “Never puffs his chest. Not a peacock. Never been a guy who’s trying to have a confrontation or make enemies. But at the same time, if he has leverage — or he knows he’s in control — he’s going to push the issue. He’s a tiger but he doesn’t often bare his teeth.” …

Think to do things like include a clause in Dana Stubblefield’s contract that bars his team from designating him with the franchise tag, setting up a financial windfall and that leads Len Pasquarelli to gush you look “like the smartest man in America.”

Make Mike Wahle the highest-paid interior lineman at the time with a $28.5 million deal. Land $42 million — including $27.5 over the first three years — for the Colts’ Dallas Clark, making him the highest-paid tight end ever, two years before he becomes a Pro Bowler. Point out to people this is 50 percent more money than the next closest player at that position.

Outmaneuver schools like Kansas State, so much so that a head coach with a 17-20 record is given a secret $3.2 million buyout. …

And what about Ferentz?

Kirk Ferentz wanted to be a head coach.

The Cleveland Browns were moving to Baltimore and his boss, Bill Belichick, was out of a job. Ferentz asked for advice and Belichick, before he left, told his young assistant: This is business. Get an agent.

Belichick gave two names. His own agent and Neil Cornrich.

Cornrich’s name stopped Ferentz cold. Was Belichick kidding? That guy was often loathed within the Browns organization, so much so they had an unprintable nickname for him.

“I’m kind of surprised you picked him,’” Ferentz remembered saying. “He said, ‘He’s one of the smartest guys out there.’ ”

Until then, Ferentz had intentionally kept Cornrich at arm’s length during his time in Cleveland. The agent, to put it bluntly, had handed the organization its lunch on several occasions.

Not so great if he’s the enemy. But not so bad when he’s your agent.

“His passion is negotiating,” says Ferentz, who two years later became the football coach at Iowa. “He is always on the cutting edge. Back in ’93 when free-agency began, he understood the way (it) was going to work and the bylaws of the NFL probably better then a lot of coaches and NFL executives did.”

That Ferentz started as a Cornrich adversary only to become a client and close friend is a telling transition.

There’s much more to this story than the passages I cited here. I recommend you go back to the link and check it out. And, for Cornrich’s own take on things, here’s his Web site. After the Star’s piece on him, he has story after story on his clients, coaches and players.

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