Thursday, January 10, 2019

This Alabama Quarterback Wants to Be Your Insurance Salesman

Ex-players like Jake Coker, who led the Crimson Tide to a national championship three years ago, join others who sell policies

By Brian Costa
Jan. 6, 2019 1:31 p.m. ET

One day three years ago, Jake Coker’s job attracted a television audience of more than 26 million. As the University of Alabama’s starting quarterback, he threw two touchdowns to help the Crimson Tide beat Clemson University in the national college football championship.

On Monday, when Alabama and Clemson meet again for the title, Mr. Coker will be performing in front of a smaller crowd—a few regional business owners in Alabama. He will try to make them fans of property and casualty insurance.

“If your building somehow gets destroyed,” Mr. Coker says, “you need to be covered.”
Alabama and Clemson, meeting in the College Football Playoff for the fourth year in a row, have dominated college football for so long that a prominent player from their first title game is now an insurance salesman. After his bid to make the National Football League fizzled, Mr. Coker joined what has become a league unto itself: former college football players who sell insurance.

Members include Craig Krenzel, the quarterback who led Ohio State to a national championship in 2002, and an array of prominent ex-players in the Southeast.
Among Mr. Coker’s local competitors in Mobile, Ala., is one of his college rivals, former Auburn football captain Reese Dismukes. His other regional foes include former Auburn quarterback Ben Leard and former Georgia stars David Greene and Matt Stinchcomb.
Most of them played quarterback. Nearly all of them sell the same particular type of insurance: commercial property and casualty, which covers damages such as fires and related liabilities.
“We compete against each other just like we did back in our playing days,” says Mr. Leard, a senior vice president at J. Smith Lanier & Co., a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company.
The insurance business has become such a well-known Plan B for aspiring NFL quarterbacks that some are relieved specifically to avoid it. Tom Brady, the New England Patriots star, once summed up his sentiment upon being drafted in 2000 by saying in an interview for a documentary: “I was so excited, I was like, ‘I don’t have to be an insurance salesman!’ ”
But most college players eventually need a regular day job. Many of them find it in the places where they remain local celebrities, sometimes working for alumni or supporters of the schools for which they played. And they find it in a line of work where their name recognition gives them a distinct advantage: They are the rare insurance salesmen whom total strangers are actually excited to meet.
“When you call somebody and you say your name, that light goes off and they know who they’re talking to,” Mr. Coker says. “It kind of gives them a blanket of trust.”
The league of quarterbacks-turned-insurance-salesmen spans the country. Tony Graziani, who helped lead Oregon to the 1996 Cotton Bowl title and spent four seasons in the NFL, sells property and casualty, along with health and life insurance in Bend, Ore. “Love it,” he says.
But it is particularly concentrated in areas where college football attracts religious devotion.

A few of the ex-quarterbacks say it is no coincidence they ended up on the same side of the business. They point to the competitiveness of sales, coupled with the problem-solving nature of commercial insurance. “It requires an analytical yet creative thought process, which to me takes you right back to the quarterback position,” says Mr. Krenzel, principal of Arthur Krenzel Lett Insurance Group in Dublin, Ohio, not far from the Ohio State University campus.

Ready to Sell You a Policy

These are some who have joined a league unto itself: former college football players who sell insurance.

Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel

But others in the business point to another factor. The people they are courting to buy property and casualty insurance are some of the most likely fans of area college football teams. And quarterbacks are among those teams’ most prominent players.
“There are a lot of business owners who are big Alabama football fans,” says Chris Boone, an executive with the agency that hired Mr. Coker, BXS Insurance Inc. “They would be naturally inclined to receive Jake for an appointment.”
Mr. Coker signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2016 but was cut during the preseason. Back in Alabama, a former university trustee who runs a stevedoring and cargo shipping company gave him his first job, Mr. Coker says. Ten months after the national championship game, Mr. Coker was spending his days loading timber onto trucks.
“You go from flying first class—you ask for something, you have it—and then you get away from that and you’re on your own,” he says.
It was through a friend who works at BXS that Mr. Coker landed his job there last summer. Other former players have leaned on connections with more direct university ties. Mr. Leard, the former Auburn quarterback who works not far from campus, was hired by the former CFO of his agency, who is a financial booster of the school’s athletics program.
As the former players have learned, their local fame hardly assures them of winning new business. In some instances, there can be a downside.
Mr. Greene, who set a National Collegiate Athletic Association record with 42 wins as quarterback of the Georgia Bulldogs from 2001 to 2004, sells commercial property and casualty insurance for Sterling Seacrest Partners in Atlanta. He says prospective clients’ interest isn’t always what it seems.
“Some people will say, ‘Hey, my grandson loves the Dawgs, so I really want to meet. Can you sign a ball for my grandson?’ ” Mr. Greene says. “But they really don’t have any intention of doing business with you.”
The night of the national championship game holds special significance for Mr. Coker, who is one of only two players in the past two decades to win a national title for two different schools. He was a backup on Florida State University’s 2013 championship team before transferring.
It is a big week for him this year, too. While Alabama and Clemson play on Monday night in Santa Clara, Calif., Mr. Coker says he will be on a weeklong trip to Birmingham, Ala., to meet with existing and prospective clients.
“I need to find a good spot to watch the game,” he says. “Hopefully, I’ll find a little bar with some Bama fans.”
Write to Brian Costa at

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