By Steve Yahn
The property/casualty brokering business is a natural for ex-jocks with big name recognition. When you've set passing records for the New York Giants or played for the undefeated Miami Dolphins, it says something about you.
The insurance industry is also something that players can get involved with on a part-time basis while still in their playing days, using their downtime between games and practices to study and pick up certifications.
Players that have made a transition from professional football to successful careers as brokers include Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who played for Baltimore, San Francisco and New York in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s; All-Pro strong safety Dick Anderson, who played on the 1972 Miami Dolphins team that finished 17-0; Don Nottingham, who had some memorable years as a fullback with the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins; and more recently, Louis D'Agostino, who parlayed a standout college career into two years with the New York Jets and other professional football teams before founding a successful insurance business in Long Island, N.Y.
Robert W. Turner, research associate in the sports research institute at the University of North Carolina, and a specialist on the transitioning of individuals who are entrepreneurial by nature, said these NFL players who make the move to insurance are examples of professional athletes who have the foresight to envision a career outside of sports.
Further, Turner said, such entrepreneurial types often "create opportunities for themselves in business before they even make the pros through internships while they're in college or other means."
The success of these trailblazers in insurance has served as a platform for what is now an industry-wide effort on behalf of the NFL to find better opportunities for players after their limited playing careers come to an end.
Turner noted that the NFL has launched off-season career guidance programs at the Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, as well as running a robust NFL alumni program.
BUILDING FROM THE BACKFIELD
Tittle was drawn to insurance because it was a people business and he was a people person, said his 47-year-old son John, CEO of Y.A. Tittle & Associates, a San Jose, Calif.-based full-line insurance agency. Y.A., 83, is the founder and still-active chairman emeritus of the firm.
"In my Dad's case, he was very involved with the fans and interacting with people when he was quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, so I think it goes hand in hand to be involved in insurance," said Tittle.
Having young mouths to feed led Y.A. into the insurance business during his playing years.
"I was playing professional football at the time and it seemed like selling insurance was the only business I could get into where I didn't have to be there all the time and I could have other people run it for me," Y.A. said.
So he created Y.A. Tittle Insurance and Financial Services and soon gravitated to the property/casualty side of the business.
Y.A. launched his firm in the San Francisco area because of his special fame there. With the San Francisco 49ers he was a member of the "Million Dollar Backfield," the only backfield in pro football history in which all members were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Y.A. was the quarterback along with running backs Joe "The Jet" Perry, Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson.
"Dad started with the 'Niners as customers and built his agency from the ground up," Tittle said.
"He had partners and they grew to a pretty good size, but dad stayed with it and it got bigger. Let me put it this way, it didn't hurt to be Y.A. Tittle," Tittle said.
Fortuitously for the Tittle agency, it was just getting started in Palo Alto, Calif., when Silicon Valley was just beginning to explode. This led Y.A. to get involved in real estate development, which in turn created insurance opportunities with new clients like National Semiconductor, Advanced Micro Devices and Fairchild.
After awhile Y.A. sold his agency to a national firm, Rollins Burdick and Hunter,
But when John graduated from college in the mid-1980s, events took a dramatic turn. "We bought a very small book of benefits insurance and we went back into business under Y.A. Tittle Insurance Services," he said.
"We started from scratch and grew to where we are now, a five-office agency with 50 employees that is licensed nationwide. We handle primarily commercial insurance but have a strong personal-lines clientele."
In a major recent development for the agency, an office was opened in New York. It had been in the works for several years, but plans accelerated when a New York newspaper did a poll two years ago that showed Y.A. was the second most-popular quarterback in New York Giants history.
AUGMENTING SUPER BOWL WINNINGS
Connections made by Dick Anderson while an All-American strong safety at the University of Colorado, combined with an undergraduate degree in marketing and one particularly valuable course in income tax accounting, led to an opportunity to serve as a Florida sales representative for a Colorado firm in the credit life insurance business.
Entrepreneurial by nature, Anderson eventually launched his own firm, concentrating on the wholesale side of the business.
With a young family and a Miami Dolphins salary of $15,000 in 1968, his first year, and $17,500 the following year after being named the Co-Defensive Rookie of the Year, Anderson realized football would not last forever. He also realized even as a young player that name recognition was helpful in sales.
In those days, the season was over in late December and the teams didn't go back to training camp until mid-July.
"Once a month during the off-season I'd take a loop through Florida, stopping at current accounts and calling on new ones," Anderson said. "By the third year I was making more selling insurance than I was playing football. The first year we went to the Super Bowl and lost (1971), I made an extra $15,000 from the Super Bowl, $29,000 in salary and more than $44,000 selling insurance."
Anderson's fame on the football field helped his growing insurance business. In the course of a 10-year career beginning in 1968 with the Dolphins, he was named Co-Defensive Rookie of the Year, was a three-time Pro Bowl choice and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1973.
The last two seasons of his career he was the president of the NFL Players Association, and a year after he retired, he was elected to the Florida Senate. After that he took over the ownership of the RCA distributorship for the state of Florida. He then bought a chain of cellular telephone stores.
Today, at 66, Anderson runs the South Miami-based Anderson Insurance Group, specializing in group health and indemnity products.
THE CHARGE OF THE FULLBACK
Don Nottingham's preparation for life in the insurance industry began when he was attracting national attention as a running back at Kent State University, leading the nation in rushing his senior year.
"My father-in-law was instrumental in getting me involved in insurance," said Nottingham. "When I got interested in his daughter, I was a junior in college. When it was obvious that his daughter and I were going to stay together, he said, 'I've got to teach you how to do something besides chase oblong steroid objects.' "
"He was connected with Northwestern Mutual and he put me through their program, starting in my junior year at Kent," said Nottingham.
Then along came Nottingham's well regarded professional football career, first as a hard-blocking fullback on a celebrated Baltimore Colts team, and then with the Miami Dolphins, for which he played in the backfield with Hall of Famer Larry Csonka.
But getting traded from Baltimore to Miami was a red alert for Nottingham.
"When I got traded to Miami, I figured getting traded could happen again," said Nottingham. "So I decided to find a life insurance general agent that I could hook up with. I ran into a guy named Fred Diamond who had his own agency in Miami. His agency was primarily property and casualty. When Fred said to me, 'Wouldn't you want to do it all, not just life insurance?' the lights went on."
So Nottingham started out with Diamond's Titan Agency, and his life's work was set.
"I thoroughly and absolutely enjoy working with small businesses. They're the backbone of America as far as I'm concerned," Nottingham said.
Nottingham's affinity with entrepreneurial businesses inspired him to open his own agency in 1979. Nottingham ran it until 1988, before merging with another firm. That's when Hurricane Andrew ripped through Florida and provided a big opportunity for Nottingham.
The Miami Dolphins alumni chapter put him in touch with the Associated Grocers of Florida, which represents thousands of stores across the state from Key West all the way up to the Panhandle.
Nottingham discovered that a lot of the association's member stores couldn't find anybody to talk to them about insurance in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.
Nottingham set up a captive insurance agency for the group and managed that for almost 10 years, until 2006, before the nonstop traveling caught up with him.
He quit and figured he would just hang out his shingle, he said. "It gave me a chance to serve the kind of clients I liked best: businesses with one helper to 50 to 100 employees."
But then adversity struck. Nottingham learned that he needed bypass surgery. Fortunately the surgery was a success, but that's why he's no longer in an ownership position, he said.
"I was looking for somebody who would take my business but let me continue to manage it, and the Ocala Insurance Agency filled the bill," said Nottingham, now 62.
"I want to keep working. I want to continue to be an agent concentrating on business clients."
MAN of iron
Louis D'Agostino, 38, partner and senior vice president of Iron Cove Insurance, does a nationwide book of business from offices in Garden City, N.Y., and New York City. He said playing football in high school in Long Island, college at the University of Rhode Island and professionally with the New York Jets and two other pro teams, has been important to his steady rise in the insurance business.
This is often true of hard-driving, self-made athletes, said Palm Beach, Fla.-based psychologist John F. Murray, author of "The Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History."
"We call it 'athletic identity,' " said Murray.
"If you lose that identity, your whole life can be over at 30. It's really important to educate these athletes and get them thinking about making the transition to life after sports before they get out. The problem is, that's not what they want to do because they're trying to be great," Murray said.
Gearing up for life after sports clearly wasn't a problem for Louis D'Agostino. He was a star high school and college athlete -- his senior year in high school he won the outstanding player in all sports in Nassau County, N.Y., and in his junior and senior years at the University of Rhode Island he was a college All-American.
He then worked his way onto the New York Jets as a running back for two seasons. After that he played for the Florida Bobcats in the Arena League and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen in the XFL League.
In between Arena and XFL league play, D'Agostino had a friend who sponsored him for securities industry licenses. This led to work for insurance broker Frank Crystal & Co., where he learned the business.
After 10 years with Frank Crystal D'Agostino believed it was time to return to Long Island and go out on his own.
"I always had an itch and a craving to build a business and I thought the time was right," he said. "I was married and I had kids, but I was still young enough."
A year and a half ago, D'Agostino created a company called Iron Cove Partners. The firm is a division of the 23-year-old Whitmore Group Ltd. a diversified insurance services company employing over 75 dedicated insurance professionals.
The Iron Cove team is dedicated to handling the risk management and insurance needs of hedge funds, private equity groups and stand-alone investment advisers.
STEVE YAHN, the former editor of Advertising Age, can be reached at email@example.com.
April 13, 2012
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