We try to salute and celebrate the good guys in this business, especially when they have success. Of course, success isn’t measured the same way by all people, but given the high barriers to entry in the NFL and the difficulty of simply landing someone on a 53-man roster, getting a player drafted is a real victory.
Gaithersburg, Md.-based Jeff Jankovich of Vantage Management Group had his first draftee this year, Maine OB Trevor Bates, who was selected 7/239 by the Colts last weekend. Jeff’s story is long and twisting, but successful, and to some degree, his is the real-life Jerry Maguire experience. He started off with a big firm, where he learned, before breaking off and going independent for a while and starting at the bottom. After many years of building, brick by brick, he made it. Here’s his story.
“I started out with a friend representing basketball players overseas in 1996, right out of law school, and it developed organically. I had played sports in high school, but I had no connections or background in sports. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t even know they had basketball overseas. So I started out like that, and it grew over the course of a couple years to 20-25 players overseas, but none were in big-money leagues. I had been kicking around the idea of getting involved in football, and I was much more interested in it as opposed to basketball, and I had started talking to people to do my due diligence. I was asking myself, ‘can I do football like I did basketball, with no credentials?’ It wasn’t going to happen.
“So I wondered, would an agency hire me? I had heard about Ralph Cindrich, and had heard he was a Pitt guy, and I was a Pitt guy. So I basically sent a resume to one place, to Ralph, and I thought, if I’m going to get hired, this is my best shot. I don’t have any connections or family members. So Greg Diulus, his assistant at the time, interviewed me first, and then Ralph interviewed me, and they gave me an opportunity.
“I was there two years at Cindrich and Co., from ‘99 to 2001, and Ralph was the only certified agent. It was Greg, myself, and Adam Heller, and we assisted Ralph on contract stuff and recruited, but none of us were certified. I got a tremendous amount of experience, because it was a small shop with lots of clients. I left under good terms but I wanted to get back down to the D.C. area, missed being down here, and I thought, I’ve learned this, now I can do this on my own.
“So I came back down here and got certified, and it was utter failure for a year or two. I was not able to sign anyone, or the ones I signed were not anywhere near NFL caliber, but I’d get them in the CFL or the Arena Leagues and even that turned out to be challenging. Eventually, the main breakthrough I had was when I got (Valdosta State OT) Richard Collier. The way I got the ‘in’ was, he was at Division II Valdosta State, and he was a lineman, and back in those days we got the full (BLESTO and National) scouting reports, and he was listed as a ‘camp body.’ So I’m on a camp body early on, and the only agent he’s talking to, and it wasn’t competitive at all.
“He was a high priority undrafted free agent, and he was with the Jags for two years, and during those two years, things got a little better recruiting-wise, but there were no dramatic successes. So I started developing other clients but never had a lot going on. He had been in the league for two years, and in the offseason, the Jaguars had asked us to consider negotiating so he wouldn’t got to restricted free agency, and we did. He got a fairly good signing bonus, and the week before camp started was when he got shot.
“When that happened, everything stopped, and I was extremely concerned about how I was going to help this guy. There were so many issues coming up, aside from his health issues. The business and legal issues, COBRA, what are the Jags’ obligations under his contract . . . there were a lot of things that were just hitting all at once, and any agent who goes through that is going to have a very difficult time. I did have some people that rallied around me, but the end result was I was spending a tremendous amount of time with him over a year and a half. I don’t want to say he was a full-time job, but he was virtually a full-time job to make sure he was going to be OK. I made the decision that I don’t have the time and can’t justify the time of recruiting. I had my hands full running the law practice and making sure Richard was OK, so I didn’t recruit for like two years. The clients I had washed out of the league, and there was nothing left. What little momentum I had had turned into nothing. So I let my certification lapse, and just I said, well, that was my run. But after a couple years, I thought, I don’t want to give up on this yet, so I got re-certified. The first year-and-a-half, I had players with no shot at all. Some of them went to mini-camp but that’s it, and I thought, here we go again, starting from scratch.
“I had been, on a friendly level, communicating with Greg and Adam, and talking to them, and started thinking, if I can partner with them, that will help with the recruiting. It was amazing because even though the players were hearing the same thing from me, it was like, ‘oh, by the way, we rep 20 players in the NFL.’ It just changes the way they hear it, even though I had said the same thing before. They were all for it, and they had formed Vantage Management. So things have gone well from there. In my first year with them, I had three priority free agents, and all of them are still in the league. In the next year, I had a couple more PFAs, and this year, I had my first draft pick. And so things are picking up. If you count the basketball part as being an agent, it’s been 20 years in the business, and I don’t know how much money I’ve spent, but who knows how much money I’ve taken out of my wife’s pockets, and kids’ pockets, and the time and travel. But 20 years. As satisfying as it is, I don’t have any ego about it at all. It’s almost a dubious distinction.”
It’s not dubious to me. It’s a story of persistence and dedication, and that’s what it takes to succeed in football. Have a great weekend.