This last weekend, I attended a family social event in the south. One of my nephews is a lawyer and a certified NFL agent. With his partner, he represents and is retained by a number of recent Michigan grads, including some in the current 2017 draft, as well as undrafted free agents. We always jaw a bit: he got his undergraduate degree from OSU, and played ball at a high level prior to injury.
Representing NFL athletes is only part of his practice. However, it takes a significant amount of time and energy. I learned a lot more about what it is to be an agent. Negotiation on contracts is something that takes relatively little time. A lot more goes into recruiting more clients, and into betting on and bankrolling and babysitting guys who are preparing for the draft. Someone has to help them with life skills and not flaming out and not blowing upfront everything they're supposedly going to make. Someone has to pay for all the costs associated with training, coaching, travel, living expenses, and the like, from January through the draft. An agent helps pay for all of that, with the return being a percentage of that player's contract, if they are fortunate enough to sign with a team. In a sense, an agent drafts a real life fantasy football team. How successful an agent is depends partially on how well he assesses whether or not someone will be successful in the League.
In our discussion, he mentioned several things I found fascinating.
- Michigan grads in general carry themselves very well. He greatly enjoys representing them, and they are among his better clients. He would say that every single Michigan player he personally serves as an agent is a great guy. (I would love to mention names, but don't feel comfortable doing that. Let's just say that some were starters who just graduated, and some have graduated in the last 2 - 3 years.)
- This is in contrast to some athletes from OSU, who are a pain in the rear. From my nephew's perspective, there really is a Michigan difference.
- From his perspective, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban are really just all about the winning, and less about caring for the student athlete. For them, football is just a business. Harbaugh, in contrast, cares about his players, and about having fun. Yes, Harbaugh wants to work hard and to win. But not at all costs. Athletes aren't just to be disposed of and cast off because they've been injured or passed up on the depth chart.
- It isn't that Michigan won't ever beat OSU or 'Bama. It is just that Harbaugh is doing it a different way. He isn't so mercenary about it, and cavalier about the lives of Michigan athetes.
- My nephew's theory on why Harbaugh is different (than Meyer or Saban) is that Harbaugh has already achieved a great amount of success financially and otherwise. That being the case, Harbaugh has more freedom to do exactly what he wants to do. Personally, I think it has to be more than that. After all, Meyer and Saban both have achieved a lot of success, and have plenty of money. Nonetheless, the Rome trip and some of the other things he does leads me to believe that Harbaugh really is different, and that he really does want to put "student" back in "student athlete."
- Whatever the reason, the climate, while very competitive at Michigan, is much less about throwing people under the bus when they don't fit perfectly.
- I have gotten the impression from my nephew that Michigan is a place with a lot of high character guys, with a high level of professionalism. And these guys really appreciate being students at Michigan. I get the sense that high character guys generally appreciate each other, whether they go to OSU or Michigan or Wisconsin or Stanford or an SEC school. I do get the sense that there are a few guys at Michigan who don't get it, but the number is not very high.
- My nephew does not represent Peppers. However, he claims that at least one of his Michigan clients indicated Peppers was not capable of playing safety at the highest level. The move to viper/nickel/LB was necessitated in order to cover over Peppers' shortcomings. He also claimed that some Michigan athletes were put off by how Peppers carried himself and how he was part of the team. The suggestion was that Peppers didn't have as high a level of professionalism as he should. It is a moot point now. And I wouldn't know a thing myself. I don't hang around any current or former Michigan athletes. I can't prove or stand behind why my nephew said about Peppers (other than vouching for my nephew's own professionalism and character.) However, I think there is more to the Peppers story than most of us know or have heard about. And coaches and insiders and players are largely keeping that to themselves.
- My nephew also has the opinion that it is reasonably unlikely one current prominent player sticks with the team (will tell you the individual in question is not a QB, and not Gary.) I can't say much more, but it helps me put some of the pieces together. From a distance, I think the coaching staff does what they can to help football players make good decisions. Unfortunately, some guys made bad decisions in High School, and maybe assume they can do the same thing in college. Sometimes, with a strong support system, they get their act together. Sometimes, unfortunately, they never can break free.
It was fascinating to have the curtain pulled back a bit. And it made me proud to know that a number of Michigan players represent themselves and Michigan so well.