Labor and Agents: Long-term relationship helps Agnone guide and support Bowles in his new surprise role

With Tom Brady returning for one more season, Bruce Arians was ready to hand over the reins to Todd Bowles and step aside.getty images

On the last weekend in March, veteran NFL agent Tony Agnone got a call from the client he’s represented the longest — 36 years. “Something weird’s going on here,” Todd Bowles, then Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator, told Agnone.


Agnone has represented Bowles since 1986, the first nine years as a player and the next 25-plus years as a scout and coach. He represented him for eight years as a safety in the NFL including seven with the Washington Redskins, where he won a Super Bowl. He represented him through two seasons on the player personnel staff with the Packers, and then as a defensive coordinator at Morehouse College and Grambling State, and as defensive coordinator, assistant coach, head coach, and defensive coordinator again at seven NFL teams.

Through all this time, Agnone and Bowles have become friends who talk all the time. “He is super creative, very astute and always reads the room well,” Agnone said of his client. So when Bowles told Agnone over that weekend that something was up, the agent knew that it was.

“And then Monday he called me and said, ‘Bruce called me and said I am going to be a new head coach.’”

The news that Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians was retiring and Bowles was named his replacement broke on that Wednesday, March 30, after all the other coaches were informed of the news.

It took two days for Agnone to negotiate a new contract. He declined to provide details other than to say it was a five-year, head coach deal.


The sports industry runs on relationships, and Arians has known Bowles even longer than Agnone — 40 years. Arians was Bowles’ coach when he was a player at Temple. When Arians was the head coach of the Cardinals, he hired Bowles as defensive coordinator and hired him, again, to the same position on the Buccaneers. Arians’ decision to retire and turn over the reins to Bowles was a surprise to Agnone and Bowles, but not a complete shock.

“He never directly said, ‘You are going to take over for me,’” Agnone related. “But he always said, ‘The next time you take a job you’ve got to make sure it’s a good job.’”

Bowles was a head coach before, for the New York Jets from 2015 to 2018, but it wasn’t the best situation. His first year, the Jets posted a 10-6 record, barely missing the playoffs with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. But the next two years, the Jets went into rebuilding mode and Bowles was fired.

Tom Brady’s surprise decision to unretire on March 13 led to Bowles’ surprise hiring as head coach, Agnone said. The Buccaneers have a tough schedule this year, and until mid-March, they had a question mark at quarterback.

“So Bruce did not want him to take the job this year, he didn’t retire because he felt they weren’t going to have a quarterback,” Agnone said. “And you and I both know if you don’t have a quarterback, you go 5-12 and everybody would say, ‘He was a failure in New York; he’s a failure here; we gave him a second chance and that’s it.’”

But having the greatest quarterback of all time at the helm changes the picture completely. “So when Brady decided to come back, Bruce said, ‘You know what, now I can retire. Now I can pass it around. He’s got a good team.’”

The Buccaneers’ schedule this season has them playing a trio of Super Bowl contenders in the Bengals, Packers and Rams. They also have two West Coast trips, as well as one to Germany.

“With that killer schedule, if they win 11 games they still should win their division and we’re good to go,” said Agnone.

Agnone, an attorney who is a past president of the Sports Lawyers Association, founded his agency, Eastern Athletic Services, in 1978. He’s represented many good and great players, including Michael Strahan. EAS currently represents about 20 NFL players, including Chargers first team All-Pro center Corey Linsley. It’s a great thing for Agnone to see Bowles — a client who has become a close friend — rise to head coach of a Super Bowl contender, a position Agnone has long felt he deserved.

When Bowles was first signed by Angone, his future in the NFL was in doubt. He was a great college player, but he shattered his wrist and only had 70% use of it, which is why he was undrafted. Agnone negotiated a deal for Bowles to join Washington. He won his first Super Bowl ring as a starting safety two years later. He was later part of two more Super Bowl winners, first as a scout for the Packers and then as defensive coordinator for the Bucs two years ago.

Agnone is white and Bowles is Black. The NFL has faced even sharper criticism for its lack of Black head coaches after former Dolphins head coach and now Steelers assistant coach Brian Flores filed a racial discrimination case against the league.

Asked if race had anything to do with Bowles’ situation, Agnone said, “I think it always plays into it. I can’t lie. There are definitely some issues we have to clear up here. I think that is one of the reasons he was not selected [as a head coach] earlier.”

Bowles will also be bucking the leaguewide trend of hiring young head coaches who come from the offensive side of the ball.

“The fact that the trend is young offensive coordinators; they all want what looks like Sean McVay,” Agnone said. But he’s not worried about his longtime client.

“Like I tell him all the time, ‘How did it work for Tomlin? How did it work for Belichick or Parcells? … I think he’ll do great.”

■ EXCEL SIGNS NFL DRAFT PROSPECT FOR MARKETING: Excel Sports Management has signed Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson for marketing and all off-the-field work. Excel partner Alan Zucker and agent Parker Cain are representing him.

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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