In his previous life as a teacher at Santa Teresa High in San Jose, Bob LaMonte took a special interest in diplomatic history. Fascinated by how leaders obtain and retain power, he would always include readings of Machiavelli on his syllabus. In the late 1970s he and a colleague, Mike Holmgren, would meet for lunch, and when LaMonte wasn't holding forth on the principles of empire building, the two men, who were also assistant football coaches, discussed blocking schemes. One afternoon Holmgren arrived looking anguished. "I have the chance to be a coordinator at San Francisco State," he said. "Should I take it?" LaMonte replied, "Go for it." Then he posed a question of his own to Holmgren. A former student was preparing for the NFL draft and had asked LaMonte to represent him. Should he try to be an agent? "Bob," Holmgren said, "I think you'd be great."
A quarter century later Holmgren is coach and executive vice president of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks, after having won Super Bowl XXXI as coach of the Green Bay Packers. As for LaMonte, he has carved out a princely niche: agent to young coaches on the make. His clients include Holmgren, Jon Gruden of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles, John Fox of the Carolina Panthers, Mike Sherman of the Packers and Jim Mora Jr. of the Atlanta Falcons as well as 12 coordinators and four general managers. "I consider Bob to be a very important power player but also a very productive one," says Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. "In virtually every situation he's working with the team on behalf of his client, not against it. That gives a whole different meaning to the term power broker."
In six of the past seven years at least one of LaMonte's charges has been promoted to his first head job in the pros. After a client is granted an interview, LaMonte puts him through a vigorous preparation process, arming him with a thick three-ringed binder that covers topics from media relations to financial planning to ownership. "The key letters aren't X and 0, they're CEO," says LaMonte, 59. "[Ownership] knows you know football, so why waste time with that? You have two to five hours to show them you can run an organization." Time and again, LaMonte's clients—Reid, Sherman and Fox, to name three—have started the job search as little-known candidates and then won over management during interviews. "I tried to develop a picture of the entire team and the entire operation," recalls Reid, who has more wins than any other coach since the start of the 2000 season.
Once his clients are hired, LaMonte works to expand their spheres of influence. In 2001 LaMonte negotiated a deal in which Reid took over as the Eagles' executive VP of football operations, joining Holmgren and Sherman as LaMonte coaching clients who also have control over personnel decisions. LaMonte insists that in a perfect world, coaches and general managers can coexist—"What Mike [ Holmgren] and Ron Wolf had in Green Bay was ideal," he says—but he won't apologize for helping his coaches amass power. "If you're driving the race car at 220 mph, you want to know who's changing the oil," he says. "In the NFL, having no control is death."
If LaMonte's tactics don't fit the agent profession's blustery stereotype, neither does his lifestyle. His unassuming offices are in Reno, and the company's only other full-time employee is his wife, Lynn. Reflexively self-effacing, he rarely gives interviews and scoffs at the suggestion that he is a major player in the NFL. "We're putting a pretty dress on a pretty girl," he says. "But if she gets to be prom queen—if our guys become successful NFL head coaches—we've done our jobs."