July 8, 2002
By John Ryan
San Jose Mercury News
The wind whips off the mountain and races through the canyon toward downtown Reno. Everyone and everything heads downtown, and on this day the gusts catch the passing tumbleweeds, turning them into gold dust at the casino doors.
Bob LaMonte sits in his kitchen, his back to the action.
``I don't gamble,'' he says. ``My whole life's a gamble. Why would I go to a casino? My life is Monte Carlo.''
LaMonte, 57, was in the midst of a rare week off at his home in Reno, which also serves as the hub of operation for the most powerful agent in coaching. Professional Sports Representation counts six head coaches as clients; no other agent handles more than two. And in a business dominated by conglomerates, PSR comprises four employees -- Bob and Lynn LaMonte and two administrative assistants.
The complex perfectly reflects the image Bob LaMonte wants to portray. From the curb, it looks like a modest house with a small second floor above the kitchen. But walk in, and you see another level below, built into the canyon, with computers and fax machines whirring.
The house is 4,100 square feet in all, including a dining room upstairs and a wine closet downstairs. But it's modest headquarters for a company that has negotiated roughly $400 million in contracts in two decades. That works out to almost $20 million in commissions -- not bad as a second income for the former Santa Teresa High history teacher.
``We never set out to be sports agents,'' LaMonte said. ``We were just blessed that it happened.''
From the time he entered the public spotlight, LaMonte has been a curiosity, the teacher by day and negotiator by night. In 1981, former student Rich Campbell -- the Cal quarterback who would be selected in the first round of the NFL draft -- asked LaMonte to represent him. From there LaMonte built his business on local connections. Former Bay Area high school stars Dave Stieb (baseball), Robin White (tennis), Mervyn Fernandez (football) and Nick Vanos (basketball) became clients.
In 1992, Mike Holmgren -- an old friend from rival school Oak Grove -- got the Green Bay Packers' coaching job. That's when LaMonte retired from teaching, moved to Nevada and created his niche representing coaches. The results are evident. For five years running, a LaMonte client has gotten his first head-coaching job.
``I've been very impressed with Bob,'' said Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who hired John Fox as coach in January. ``He's a very forthright, reasonable person to do business with. He's done a great job representing John.''
Fox, likewise, is happy he signed on in February 2001. Most of all, he appreciates LaMonte's discretion.
``This is contrary to maybe what you guys have experienced,'' Fox said. ``But contrary to that, you didn't read his name in the paper all the time. You didn't have your name in the paper all the time for every single job that came about.''
Meet the press
Laugh if you want. Fox did. The previous NFL season was the most public time of LaMonte's career. Jon Gruden provided a severe test of LaMonte's belief that an agent should stay out of the papers unless it's to take a hit and keep his client looking good.
Gruden never openly said he wanted to leave the Raiders, right up until the Tampa Bay Buccaneers whisked him away under cover of darkness Feb. 18. But LaMonte had been sparring with the team over Gruden's contract for more than a year. In that time, the coach's name was linked to college jobs at Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida. Gruden laughed off the talk and began referring to LaMonte as ``007,'' the secret agent. Many in the Raiders organization believed the problem was not in the Gruden-Al Davis relationship but in LaMonte's public posturing.
The most incendiary moment came Jan. 21, when LaMonte said that there was a ``zero percent'' chance Gruden would coach the Raiders beyond the 2002 season. That's seen as the flare that set in motion Gruden's departure to the Buccaneers.
``We have been consistently honest people,'' LaMonte said. ``Whatever you want to say about what I said about Jon Gruden, it was honest. I said Jon Gruden will honor his contract; that was honest. I said he won't coach beyond 2002; that was honest. If that's bad, then I'm in the wrong business. The truth will set you free. Some people can't take the truth.''
At the news conference to announce Gruden's departure, Davis said he takes LaMonte at more than face value. Davis cited LaMonte as the off-the-record source used by many national reporters in discussions about Gruden's future. Davis and LaMonte don't deal with each other anymore, by mutual consent. (Raiders senior assistant Bruce Allen handled all contact with LaMonte.)
``But I dealt with him before when he used to represent one or two of our players,'' Davis said. ``He's an angel with me to my face, but he'll come off and pop off and say something somewhere else.''
On the front line
If you're a client, LaMonte will bite the bullet. If you aren't, well . . .
Gruden is a client. At the NFL owners' meetings in March, he continued to play dumb on LaMonte's dealings with the Raiders: whether there was any chance his contract would have been extended and, ultimately, what went wrong in the relationship.
``You'd have to ask somebody back there that would know,'' he said. ``I don't know other than, obviously, things were not going good.''
Steve Mariucci is not a client. That in itself is curious; LaMonte represents the other four NFL head coaches who were offensive assistants under Holmgren.
Mariucci, of course, played a major role in the Tampa Bay drama. He went to bed considering an offer from Tampa Bay and, depending on whom you believe, woke up to either turn it down or hear that the Glazer family, the team's owners, had hired Gruden.
At Gruden's introductory news conference in Tampa, Fla., LaMonte said, ``It was a brilliant ploy on the part of the Glazers to involve Mariucci -- who goes after a lot of jobs.'' LaMonte insists that he was speaking hypothetically. Others saw it as a suggestion that Mariucci was a pawn.
``Did what he said surprise me? No. Was his view a little different from mine? Yes,'' Mariucci said. ``I read a few things. I didn't follow the whole thing. But I thought some of the things he mentioned were a little out there. That's Bob.''
Bob and Lynn, married 19 years, remain a small company by design. They never accept more than 15 clients for their ``boutique agency.''
Upstairs, Bob negotiates and handles all dealings with team officials and reporters. Downstairs, Lynn and two administrative assistants keep the books and prepare corporate filings and management reports. (They say, only half-jokingly, that they don't allow Bob to come downstairs and mess things up.) Lynn coordinates tax returns and other financial matters, handles endorsements and is instrumental in building a relationship with clients' wives.
Clients cite the family feeling as one of the strongest attractions. The LaMontes travel to each client's home to present the management report every year. They also have guest quarters at their Reno home, as well at their vacation home in Half Moon Bay, where clients often bring their families on vacation. When their baseball players are in town, a hotel won't do. Bob and Lynn pick them up at the airport, give them a rental car and put them up in Half Moon Bay.
Stieb, an Oak Grove High graduate and former Toronto Blue Jays star, lives a mile away in Reno and sees Bob and Lynn whenever they're in town. Bob has a ticket stub from Stieb's no-hitter; there's also a picture of the two of them with Don Zimmer on an all-star tour in Japan. LaMonte is wearing one of Stieb's uniforms.
``The biggest thing about him being small was you just get to do things you don't normally do in player-agent relationships,'' Stieb said. ``He could meet me on the road, and we could hang out.''
Tennessee Titans kicker Joe Nedney, a former student at Santa Teresa, said LaMonte's role often borders on parental. ``I know of no other player that has that kind of relationship with his agent,'' Nedney said.
Nedney is the only NFL player the agency represents, and LaMonte guarantees he will never take on another. The potential for conflict is too great if his coaches are in charge of his players, he says.
LaMonte is an opportunist. Teams can always limit what they pay players, using the salary cap as an excuse. But no such limit exists for coaches. How much can Paul Allen (Seattle Seahawks, Microsoft) or the Glazer family (Buccaneers, Outback Steakhouse) afford? LaMonte loves those possibilities.
He works on packaging the ``CEO coach.'' He does mock interviews and coaches clients on dealing with the media. They know X's and O's; he wants them to show vision and energy. The rewards for a successful candidate continue to increase. By media estimates, LaMonte's six head coaches collectively earn about $15 million a season; the agency gets 5 percent.
``People always say agents and players and coaches drive the market,'' LaMonte said. ``Only ownership can drive the market.''
The bigger agencies are catching on. They have recently created independent coaches' divisions, both to avoid conflict-of-interest concerns and to get a piece of the riches. Assistants are being inundated with calls.
``They can sign 50 guys and hope two make it,'' LaMonte said. ``We sign two and make sure they make it.''
He is an opportunist because he sees the opportunities. After two years of football at Santa Clara University, he quit and got serious about history and education. He got his master's degree at San Jose State and began teaching and coaching football at Santa Teresa.
After Proposition 13 had gutted school budgets and took away his summer-school income, he gave up coaching to become a real estate agent on the side. He later got his insurance license, which he still holds. The varied business experience helps immensely when he creates and diversifies his clients' financial portfolios.
When Bob retired from teaching in 1992, he and Lynn moved to Nevada. They bought their home in 1997 because it's an easy drive to the airport. Bob is on the road 240 days a year, usually with Lynn, and never tires of it.
``I never really did anything I didn't like to do,'' he said. ``I've been blessed to always love my work. It's rare that you can find a person that never had a problem going to work every day. In my life, I can honestly tell you that whether I was a driver for Mother's Cookies when I was in college, or I was a teacher or a coach or a sports agent, I have never had a day in which I didn't enjoy going to work. That, to me, is an extraordinary thing.''