A day in the life of sports agent Jack Mills, 49, of Boulder, Colo., is one of ringing telephones and negotiations that are at once high-powered and low-keyed. Mills deals mostly with football players and their teams, and he's always polite, always at ease.
He walks into his third-floor office in the morning and looks out on the glories of the front range of the Rockies. The pigeons on the balcony coo, and he likes that. He throws his coat over a chair. This is a casual man not given to flashiness. In a recent family portrait he and everyone else wore brown.
Mills passes the autographed pictures of clients past and present—Randy Gradishar, George Rogers, Eric Dickerson, Dean Steinkuhler, Irving Fryar—and sits at his desk, which is awash in pink phone messages. The phone is ringing. He leans back and takes his first call of the day, from Kansas City Chiefs general manager Jim Schaaf. It's 9:02, and Schaaf wants to talk about Christian Okoye, the Chiefs' second-round draft pick, from Nigeria via Azusa Pacific University. Okoye, a 253-pound running back, fumbled 26 times in 28 games, but Mills is quick to point out to Schaaf that "only nine were in his senior year.
"He's another Earl Campbell, only faster," says Mills, who is not above hyperbole. He and Schaaf spar. "You got anyone signed yet?" Mills asks. They spar some more. Schaaf finally makes an offer that averages $200,000 a year for four years. He tells Mills, "This is low, and I know you're going to think it's low."
Mills says politely, "It's O.K." Not O.K., as in "I accept," but O.K., as in "Fine, negotiations have to start somewhere...." Schaaf thinks he's making more headway than he is and suggests a meeting. "I'll get back to you when I can," Mills says. He is thinking of a deal averaging $300,000 per year.
He calls Okoye and says, "It's a start." Okoye repeatedly says he just wants to play. "Don't be nervous," Mills responds. "I'll be nervous."
Mills's understated ways work, he says, "because I tend to be easy on people and hard on the problem." After all, what would have been gained by giving Schaaf a piece of his mind? Okoye is feeling better. "Call me if you need anything," Mills says, signing off.
At 9:42 he's on the phone with Mike Chernoff, a Colts vice-president. They spar. Mills asks, "Any new and different ideas on Chris Gambol?" Gambol, another Mills client (since 1967 Mills has represented 414 football players, including 31 first-rounders), is an offensive lineman from Iowa and the Colts' third-round selection. Chernoff is interrupted by a call from his team's owner, Robert Irsay. Chernoff calls back four minutes later, and Mills says innocently, "I bet Bob Irsay said to give Jack Mills everything he asks for." Chernoff, less jovial, says he hopes there won't be any problems. Mills assures him there won't "if y'all will do my deal." Chernoff makes an offer, and Mills says, "O.K., right, I hear you, O.K." In fact, the offer is nonsense. They'll talk later.
It is 9:50, and Okoye is back on the phone. He wants to leave Kansas City and go home to Sacramento. Mills plans a meeting with him when he changes planes in Denver.
At 10:05 somebody calls who wants Mark Bavaro of the New York Giants to put in a day's work at a football camp. For $6,000. "That might get his attention," says Mills. He calls Bavaro, who has family plans scheduled for the day. Bavaro decides to turn it down. "Call me if you need anything," Mills says.