Drew Rosenhaus turned a lot of heads prior to the 1989 National Football League Draft when he signed his first client, Robert Massey, from an unheralded Division II football program, North Carolina Central. Odder still was the idea that Rosenhaus persuaded ESPN to send a cameraman to capture the reaction of the agent and his client in a dormitory room once the young cornerback was selected on draft day.
But what made it all truly unique was that the dorm room belonged to Rosenhaus.
Just 22 year old and still a student at Duke University Law School when he inked the eventual Pro Bowler, Rosenhaus instantly became recognizable to ESPN and its legion of NFL fans – as well as to players. Before long, Rosenhaus had established his own agency – Rosenhaus Sports Representation – and today represents more active players than any agent in the league.
Despite his steep ascent as a sports agent, Rosenhaus said he didn’t do anything beyond the grasp of any student who gathered to hear him speak on Tuesday, April 5, in a presentation sponsored by the Student Entertainment Council.
“If you have a great idea, go for it,” Rosenhaus urged students inside the Bart Luedeke Center Cavalla Room. “You have to have guts, and you have to work hard, but I’m no more talented than any of you. I just had a dream and had the guts to pursue it. If there’s something you really want to do, don’t be afraid.”
Rosenhaus conceded that several factors did properly align for him to find quick success as an agent. Though born in South Orange, N.J., he earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami during the mid- and late-1980s, a time when the Hurricanes football team was the nation’s most dominant program, winning national championships and annually producing NFL prospects by the dozen.
“I’m no athlete, but I was always a rabid football fan,” Rosenhaus said of his undergraduate days. “And I wasn’t afraid to be friends with those guys. I sat in class with (eventual star NFL quarterbacks) Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde.”
He explained how it was actually Michael Irvin, a top receiver during their time at Miami and now a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, who told Rosenhaus that he would make a fine agent.
“I had been thinking about law school, or getting into broadcasting, but when he said that, it really became my inspiration,” Rosenhaus recalled. ‘From that point, I was on a mission.”
Rosenhaus has since negotiated over $1 billion in contracts, for players at every position and with every NFL team. Among his active clients are DeSean Jackson, Terrell Owens, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Willis McGahee and Greg Olsen. But the very boldness that landed Rosenhaus on ESPN as a fledgling agent has also worked to his detriment, on occasion.
“My career has been a roller coaster,” he said. “I promise you it’s not always been a smooth ride.”
Rosenhaus recounted an episode in 2005 featuring Owens, who had been suspended indefinitely by the Philadelphia Eagles in the midst of a contract squabble after separate confrontations with two teammates. In an attempt to mitigate the damage to his client’s reputation, Rosenhaus arranged for Owens to issue a very public apology to the Eagles from the front of his Moorestown, N.J., home. After the apology, Rosenhaus then stepped before the microphones and announced he would take questions.
Almost immediately, the barrage began from the corps of Philadelphia sports scribes. “What, besides getting him kicked off the team, have you done for ‘T.O.’,” one reported demanded of the agent. Rosenhaus, annoyed and slightly staggered, dismissed the query with a brusque, “Next question!” What followed was a series of questions that begat the same terse non-answer from Rosenhaus.
“I was the laughingstock of my trade, and it was a very tumultuous time in my career,” he recalled. “I really took it on the chin for ‘next question,’ but, I also didn’t quit. I went to work on two guys – Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells.”
Rosenhaus eventually negotiated a contract with Jones and Parcells, the owner and then-head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, respectively, that was well in excess of the compensation Owens had earned with the Eagles.
“It was a huge success story,” Rosenhaus declared. “I went from the outhouse to the penthouse, so to speak.” He continued to say that his client base has since doubles, to 170, and Next Question became the title of his second book. “I took a negative and made it a positive,” he said.
Before leaving the podium, Rosenhaus return to the subject of his audience, and their career prospects.
“I caught a few breaks, and that helps, but even once you do, you still need to bring value to your job,” he explained. “You need to figure out your skill – have some kind of asset – then bring it to someone and partner up.”