SBJ/Sept. 16-22, 2013/Labor and Agents

Former Jets GM gathers clients

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Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum is off to a fast start in the agent business, signing more than 20 clients in the last five months as he embarks on a new career in building out a coaches, front-office and broadcasters representation division for Priority Sports & Entertainment.

Mike Tannenbaum reps coaches and broadcasters for Priority Sports & Entertainment.
Photo by: AL PERERIA
After being let go by the Jets on Dec. 31, he started on April 1 recruiting clients, including football and basketball coaches, executives in the professional and college space, as well as sports broadcasters. Since then, working out of his East Rutherford, N.J., office, he has signed Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, former Raiders head coach and current Cincinnati Bengals assistant coach Hue Jackson, as well as University of Tulsa basketball coach Danny Manning. On the broadcasting front, he’s signed Phil Savage, Dan Dickau and Jack Arute, among others.

Tannenbaum’s dismissal came after he spent his entire career — 19 years — in the NFL, starting as an intern with the New Orleans Saints in 1994. He was hired at the Jets in 1997 as director of player contract negotiations by former coach Bill Parcells. Tannenbaum, an attorney, was the youngest NFL general manager when he was named to that position in 2006.

The day he was fired, Tannenbaum received countless calls and texts. “My first noteworthy phone call was from Coach Parcells, who reminded me — my conversation with him was like 30 seconds — [and] he said, ‘This is not going to be a pity conversation, but what counts in life is what you do after you get knocked down,’” Tannenbaum recalled.

That day, Tannenbaum also received texts from agents at Priority Sports & Entertainment, whom he had faced across the negotiating table for years.

Tannenbaum was immediately presented with various opportunities, including jobs with NFL clubs as well as broadcast opportunities. But after discussions with his wife, Michelle, he decided to build a new division for Priority, a firm that has represented hundreds of NBA and NFL players but was looking to build out its offerings.

QUICK HITS:
MIKE TANNENBAUM

On being an NFL GM again: “I would never say never. But my focus right now is to build this practice to be the best in the business.”

On the NFL trend of hiring younger coaches and executives: “Some people are saying we are looking at a trend that is going younger. I also think you are looking at a market where some guys have thrived in their second and third situations.”

On being let go by the Jets: “If it didn’t hurt and I wasn’t emotional about it, I wouldn’t be human. And now, I am just trying to learn from those years.”

On negotiating from the other side of the table: “Negotiations are negotiations and I am very experienced at that part of the job. But I was almost laughing to myself, the first time, making some of the points that had been used against me [by agents] for 19 years. So I have had every line used, and I think I use them on behalf of my clients.”

— Compiled by Liz Mullen

Tannenbaum’s new clients Manning and Dickau were both represented by Priority as players during their careers, and Priority’s relationships in the NBA helped Tannenbaum get a foot into the basketball world.

Although he would not discuss the financial details of his deal with Priority, Tannenbaum, who reports to company founder and CEO Mark Bartelstein, said his reasons for taking the job were more than economic. He enjoys working with his clients and helping develop their careers. “I am obsessed with professional development and people who are around me, they know that. That is why they will get an article from me at three in the morning,” Tannenbaum said.

Savage, former general manager of the Cleveland Browns and current executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, said Tannenbaum negotiated his recent broadcasting deals with ESPN and Sirius XM. Before signing with Tannenbaum in May, Savage never had an agent before. “He’s really been a terrific advocate for me,” Savage said.

There have been several agents who have gone from representing players to negotiating against them as front-office executives over the years, including Bruce Allen, general manager of the Washington Redskins, and Bob Myers, general manager of the Golden State Warriors.

But Tannenbaum could not think of anyone who has gone from being a general manager to an agent.

He said the workload is similar to that of a general manager; the hours are about the same — long — and seven days a week, 365 days a year. But the life of an agent is much less structured and more unpredictable, Tannenbaum said.

“Coming from the regimented world of the NFL and the schedule and working with the CBA, which would tell you what we could feed the players, how much we could pay them, when we could travel, what time the next meeting is, what time is lunch,” Tannenbaum said. “This is the exact opposite. When a client calls, you drop everything.”

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