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48 years after Steve Owens, agent Jack Mills has another OU Heisman-winning client

By Berry Tramel, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City on

Published in Senior Living Features

Steve Owens won the 1969 Heisman Trophy and hired an OU graduate as his agent.

Baker Mayfield won the 2017 Heisman Trophy and did the same.

Literally. The same agent.

Fifty years after he entered the sports representation business, 80-year-old Jack Mills remains on the job, with his Boulder, Colorado-based Ascent Sports Management.

"Pretty good spread between Heismans," Mills joked last week.

Pretty good spread between Heisman earnings, too. Mills in 1969 had four clients who became first-round draft picks -- Colorado's Bobby Anderson and Sooners Owens, Steve Zabel and Jim Files. Sometimes Mills has let himself imagine what four first-round draft picks would be worth to a singular agent in the 21st century. As it was, Mills' 1969 clients averaged about $25,000 in salary, with bonuses ranging from $40,000 to $75,000.

A few years ago, the Boulder Camera pointed out that Anderson was the 11th overall pick in 1969. In 2005, the Denver Broncos traded up to take quarterback Jay Cutler with the 11th overall pick. Cutler signed a six-year, $48 million contract that included an $11 million signing bonus.

So yes, the money has changed. So has the business.

"There's so many more people doing it," Mills said. "There's over 800 that are certified by the NFLPA (players association). That's an awfully lot of people out there trying to get clients. It's gotten very very competitive."

Mills and his son, Tom, comprise Ascent, with help from a small staff. Big agencies -- IMG, for instance -- have a financial advantage, but the Millses try to counter with more personal service. Decades ago, Ascent had as many as 72 football clients, including Eric Dickerson. Now, it's usually no more than four or five.

"This is the ultimate relationship business," Mills said. "If you're going to do the kind of job we think you need to do, you can't be one of the big firms. Nowadays, the guys are making so much money, we don't need that."

Mills grew up in the west Texas town of Stamford, along the same time as eventual OU star Bob Harrison. Mills came to OU and got a partial scholarship for helping in the Sooner football recruiting office. Mills got business and law degrees from OU, the latter in 1963, then spent two years in the Army.

By then, former Sooner quarterback and Bud Wilkinson assistant coach Eddie Crowder had become Colorado's head football coach. Crowder recruited Mills to Boulder to be an assistant athletic director. Crowder told Mills he some day could lead the NCAA. But after a year with Crowder, Mills opened a law practice and in 1968 got into sports representation, starting with CU clients Dick Anderson, an eventual star safety with the Miami Dolphins, and Hale Irwin, who would go on to win three U.S. Open golf titles.

"I was able to keep going with sports," Mills said. "Really ended up being the best of both worlds."

Mills' OU connections earned the business of Owens, Zabel and Files. Since then, he's represented Sooners ranging from Tinker Owens to Nate Hybl to Blake Bell.

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"I always called Jack the Golden Tongue, because he was so good at negotiating," said Tinker Owens, retired from the NFL for 37 years but still friends with Mills. Owens' friendship with James Mayfield, Baker's father, was the connection for Mayfield to consider Mills.

"Jack always treated me great," Owens said. "I never heard anybody say anything bad about Jack. He's simply the best, as I told Bake. He's honest."

Owens said back in the 1970s, Mills took 2.9 percent of Owens' total contract. Talking among his New Orleans Saints teammates, Owens discovered that some were paying 10 percent of their money to their agent.

These days, agent contracts are more regulated, as are NFL rookie salaries.

"As far as what we do, everybody's become more specialized," Mills said. "With the bigger money, we just do the contract negotiations and we try to help them coordinate everything related to their career. Others are doing money management, tax preparation, that sort of thing.

"I call it career management. Guys change teams sometimes, like Blake Bell went from the Vikings this year. That was a good thing for him. Sometimes guys get injured, gotta help 'em with that. In general, keeping an eye on their career, so when they do come up (for contract). Guys that don't get drafted high tend to be on and off rosters. Those keep you busy. The top guys, you don't have to worry about that.

"You don't do anything with the contract until after three years. Always looking towards the day of free agency, which is when the players really get their bargaining power. Free agency gives you a chance to use some leverage. That's when you can have some fun with the contract part of it."

Mills said he's excited about Mayfield.

"I think he's going to be an awesome client," Mills said. "I think he's got a great future as a player. Some of the things people have expressed concern about aren't going to be an issue."

Mills will be at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine with Mayfield. The Millses will prep Mayfield for the interviews he'll undergo in Indianapolis. They'll work the general managers and scouts, laying groundwork for a possible negotiation for another Sooner Heisman winner, 48 years after Mills did it the first time.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

(c)2018 The Oklahoman

Visit The Oklahoman at www.newsok.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c) The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

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