Southwestern Law School Los Angeles, CA
 

Alumni Q&A with Bruce Tollner '91

btollner
Bruce Tollner '91, Partner, REP 1 Sports

Q: What inspired you to become a sports agent? Was it your background as a student athlete in high school and college?

A: I did enjoy playing sports in high school and at USC, but I think it was more being around my father during his years coaching football in college and in the National Football League.  I wanted to guide young people throughout their career on and off the field.

Q: After working for the Buffalo Bills front office, what made you decide to go to law school?

A: At that time, I wanted to be a General Manager in the NFL or represent professional athletes at the highest level.  I knew it would be extremely beneficial in either profession to get my JD from a very respected law school.

Q: Why did you choose Southwestern Law School?

A: I researched schools and spoke with different people.  A lot of people spoke highly of their experience at Southwestern.  It turned out to be a great decision for me.

Q: What courses in law school provided a helpful foundation for your career as a sports agent?


A: Contract law was the most helpful for me, but I have been surprised to see the value of other courses come up at different times in the representation of professional athletes.

Q: According to your bio, you opened your own legal practice/sports management firm in 1992. When did you and your cousin Ryan form Rep 1 Sports?


A: I have been a sports agent since 1992.  My cousin, Ryan, joined me in the business about 15 years ago.  We joined Leigh Steinberg and Warren Moon and formed Tollner, Moon and Steinberg for about four years before starting REP 1 Sports in 2006.

Q: Who are some of the highest drafted players and pro bowl players that you represent?

A: Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Iupati, Joe Staley, Matt Slater, Shea McClellin, Heath Farwell, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Star Lotulelei and Blake Bortles.

Q: What was one of the most memorable deals you brokered for an athlete or a coach?

A: We really take a lot of pride in maximizing every deal at all levels. One deal that stands out in the media is Ben Roethlisberger’s six-year extension for $102 million with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  At the time, it was the largest deal in the history of the NFL.

Q: Recently, your firm was featured in a Sports Illustrated article for the way you guided your clients through the 2014 NFL draft. What are some of the key elements to helping your clients have the best outcome in a draft?

A: There are a lot of things that go into helping a client be drafted as high as possible.  Each player has unique circumstances and a specific plan of attack for the draft.  Some decisions can include what all-star games to play in or not and does the player perform at the combine.  The specialized training and preparation for all of the physical and mental testing is a real difference maker in the process.

Q: What are the biggest perks of being a sports agent?

A: By far it is the relationships with our clients. Being able to guide them and be there for them during the ups and downs of their career is very rewarding. 

Bruce Tollner comments on the book he co-wrote with Coach Chuck Pagano, Sidelined: Overcoming Odds through Unity, Passion, and Perseverance (Zondervan; 2014):

 

Q: You recently wrote a book about Coach Chuck Pagano of the Indianapolis Colts and his battle with cancer.  How much of this book is about football and how much of it is about overcoming adversity?


A: Regarding football, it’s a story that focuses on the 2012 and 2013 football seasons specifically, and it gives a peek into the world of an NFL coach. There are multiple examples of overcoming adversity that are blended in throughout both seasons.


Q: When did you first meet Chuck Pagano?


A: Coach Pagano and I have been good friends for over 30 years. I was a student at USC in 1984 and Chuck was a graduate assistant for my dad when he was the head football coach there. Chuck and I remained friends through his 12 moves over the next 28 years before accepting the position as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.

Q: What can readers take away from Coach Pagano’s unique mindset throughout his journey?


A: I think the reader will see a perfect example of what Coach likes to say: “Circumstances don’t make you, they reveal you.” Coach emphasizes it’s not your condition in life, but your position. His condition was having leukemia and taking over a team that had gone 2-14 the previous season. His position was to beat leukemia and win games now. We all need to take a step back from our condition, figure out our position, and go for it.


Q: How did Pagano’s battle with cancer unite the organization and the city of Indianapolis?


A: From the players, to the GM, to the owner, everyone was extremely supportive for Chuck during his battle with cancer. One of the Colts’ players, Pat McAfee, tweeted his support for Chuck and it included #Chuckstrong, and it created a unifying force and rally cry for Chuck. It led to the birth of the Chuckstrong Foundation, which has been able to donate almost $2 million to support cancer research.