Sometimes what athletes do after the ball stops bouncing can make for a pretty interesting story.
One of former BYU assistant coach Norm Chow’s sons, Carter, had a winding journey from Timpview High School to becoming a sports agent for Yee & Dubin Sports, and I wrote about it in 2009.
Carter Chow is still there according to the website, helping college athletes realize their dreams of playing professional sports.
His last name may have opened a few doors, but Carter Chow’s road to becoming an NFL sports agent was paved with hard work and opportunity, just like his clients.
The 34-year-old Chow — yes, he’s former BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s oldest son — represents two Cougars in wide receiver Austin Collie and linebacker David Nixon heading into this weekend’s NFL draft. The former Timpview and BYU grad never intended to end up as a sports agent, but today and Sunday he’ll be in the offices of Yee & Dubin Sports, LLC in Los Angeles, working the phones, watching the television broadcast of the draft and living and dying with every selection.
“It’s a hard business,” Chow admitted. “To these players you’re an agent, a counselor, a psychologist, someone for them to vent their frustrations. You wear a lot of different hats. The average fan doesn’t understand how difficult it is to make a living doing what I do. The business model is upside down and often times the salary numbers are inflated. The money in the NFL is not guaranteed.”
Experience at $7 an hour
Carter played tennis and basketball at Timpview, then more tennis at BYU, where he graduated in 1998 with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Japanese. Carter and his wife Sarah both also graduated from BYU Law School in 2002 — “She was No. 1 in our class,” Carter said — which eventually led them to Houston, where Sarah Chow had been offered a year-long clerkship for a prominent federal judge. The Chows planned on moving to New York to work after the year was over. Finding a law firm to hire him for just a year turned out to be difficult, so Carter ended up taking a job with the fledgling Houston Texans.
“All my buddies from law school were working high-powered, six-figure jobs,” Carter said, “and I’m in Houston making seven bucks an hour. To this day, it was the best job I ever had in my life.”
Carter split time between the Texans’ legal department and football operations. He worked in the mornings on things like contracts and endorsement deals then changed into shorts and a t-shirt for his afternoons on the football field.
He may not have known it at the time, but Carter was getting a first-rate, sports-agent-in-training experience.
“I held the first-down marker, got water, whatever they needed me to do,” Carter said. “They allowed me to get involved with scouting and draft preparation. My time was supposed to be 50-50 between real work and football operations, but by the end of the year the majority of my time was in football operations. It was an awesome year in Houston because everything was new. I got to do a lot of things a junior attorney at a law firm wouldn’t have been exposed to.”
Carter and Sarah moved to New York and worked a couple of year at a large law firm. Then Norm Chow introduced his son to the Arena Football League commissioner, and Carter was eventually offered a job as the AFL’s director of legal affairs.
“The Players Association, it’s the same guys in the NFL as in the Arena League,” Carter said. “So I worked with the same people. It’s the same thing as the NFL, just a lot fewer zeros on the contracts.”
After a couple of years with the AFL, Carter said he received a phone call “out of the blue” from sports agent and attorney Don Yee. The two had met years earlier when Carter was in high school, hanging around with his father at BYU football practice. At that time, Yee was trying to recruit Ty Detmer as a client.
“Don had been in the sports agency business for 20 years,” Carter said. “He had called my dad about a player at USC and said he remembered me. He knew I’d gone to law school and he was looking for someone for his firm.”
Carter did his research on Yee, calling general managers, coaches and former clients.
“I got very positive feedback,” Carter said.
Steve Dubin, the firm’s other partner, joined Yee in 1998. After the 1999 season, Dubin and Yee recruited and signed a lightly regarded quarterback from Michigan who was drafted in the sixth round by the New England Patriots.
Ever heard of two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady?
Show me the ... quality
Yee and Dubin Sports represents 15-20 NFL players, three NFL coaches and a handful of former players now in television. Yee used to work for a much larger sports agency but had a kind of “Jerry McGuire” epiphany, forming his own agency to work with fewer clients and only with athletes of high character.
“We do things here 180 degrees from any other agency,” Carter said. “Our philosophy is that we look at three things in signing a client: Ability, character and are they fun to work with. We recruit just as hard as college coaches recruit high school kids.”
One website lists more than 1,000 NFL sports agents on its directory. Nightmare stories of unqualified agents or unethical practices — along with the massive egos and hardball tactics of super-agents like Drew Rosenhaus — have given the profession a somewhat clouded pedigree. The NFL has tried to clean up the reputation of its agents by requiring certification and an advanced degree.
“Maybe 10 percent of all the agents have more than one player,” Carter said. “There are good guys in the business but it’s difficult for the players to weed through the bad ones. They get calls from guys who aren’t even agents.
“The hardest part of our job is finding new clients. We’re fortunate that we’re getting good referrals. We identify and contact guys early in the spring and character is really important to us. If we add four or five quality players, that’s a good year for us.”
Signing players to a contract is just a small part of what a sports agent does.
“We’re helping 21 and 22-year-old guys who’ve never purchased a car before,” Carter said. “Some of them don’t know what a mortgage is or have never bought insurance.”
A sports agent’s skills also include getting endorsements for their clients, and not just the usual apparel or sports drink deals. Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dahni Jones, a client of Yee and Dubin, hosts a television show called “Dahni Tackles the Globe” on the Travel Channel. In the program, Jones travels to different countries and plays their sports.
Yee and Dubin had success working with former BYU players like Detmer and Chad Lewis and continue mining Provo for prospective clients.
“An agent isn’t going to get a player drafted,” Carter said. “We’re not telling guys what they want to hear. It’s a hard business and they’re adults now. They’ve got to know the other factors and variables that are not in our control. It’s about relationships. You have to earn the trust with not only the client but with general managers, coaches and scouts.
“One thing I’ve learned is that if you ask ten agents the same question, nine of them will give the same answer, and one will give another answer. The one who gave a different answer is usually right.”
The right man for the job
Collie said what he looked for in an agent was the same fire to succeed he sees in himself.
“An agent has to be honest with me and honest with themselves,” Collie said. “One thing that’s great about Carter, I love that he’s a competitive guy. He works hard and he wants to be the best at what he does, just like me. Carter’s just hungry.”
Carter believes Collie is a hot commodity going into the draft.
“There’s been a lot of good wide receivers that have come through BYU from Eric Drage to Mark Bellini to Micah Matsuzaki,” he said. “They were very productive guys, but it’s one of those positions that has not had a lot of success in the NFL. No. 9 (Collie) is going to change that. We’re getting a lot of positive feedback. He went out and had a great pro day. But he’s playing a position that you don’t know what’s going to happen on draft day. Last year there were zero wide receivers taken in the first round, this year there could be six.”
Nixon could be a late-round pick but more than likely will end up as a free agent, a different challenge for Carter’s skills.
“Austin is a known commodity. He was the most productive receiver in college football last year,” Carter said. “David was productive guy as well. He has more tackles for loss than any other player in Mountain West Conference history. We’re trying to get teams to look at the right things. David’s not the right fit for every team so we have to be strategic on how we present him. He’s good in coverage, good at rushing the quarterback. But he’s such a quality person, a fantastic locker room guy. Once he gets on a team he’s going to be very difficult to cut. We’re hearing a lot of comparisons to Bryan Kehl from NFL teams. That’s not just us saying that.”
Carter said his father — now the offensive coordinator at UCLA after stops with North Carolina State, USC and the Tennessee Titans — wasn’t too thrilled about his son getting in the sports agency business, but that the elder Chow has been very supportive.
“I’ve met lot of people through him,” Carter said. “It makes conversations a little bit easier. It always makes me feel good and it’s really rewarding to know how many people think highly of my dad, both in college and the NFL.
“He told me, ‘Make sure you pick the right guys to work with or you’ll be doing something else in short matter of time.’”
Carter and Sarah have a 22-month-old daughter named Kaia, who Carter said will be “22 months old the day before the draft.”
Now there’s an agent focused on his work; he tells the passing of time by the date of the NFL Draft.
“I had no intention of being an agent,” Carter said. “I was fortunate to grow up in the business and to see things from the inside out. I can’t say it’s a dream come true, because I never expected to be here, but I’m in a very good situation.”