Monday, Oct. 2, 1995         Vol. 93, No. 135            12 Pages, 1 Section

Sooner Goes to the Big Leagues

Hollis Lands Job as Career Consultant to Ex-NFL Players

By Richard Bedard
Journal Record Correspondent

As a high school student, Rick Hollis was little more than a “decent” football player. Hollis said, "to compete for a position on our football team you had to be great." After eight years of playing, he hung up his helmet for good his sophomore year. More than two decades later, as a career consultant, Rick Hollis has just broken into the end zone.

The National Football League has chosen him to assist ex-players, who have been cut from their teams, in their next move – not dodging 260-lb middle linebackers, but drafting marketing plans, resumes and polishing up interviewing skills to prepare for new careers.

What seems amazing is, the 41-year-old executive snagged this consulting position not from Los Angeles or Chicago or New York, but from Oklahoma City, which doesn’t even have a professional football team.

He’s done it once before, for the players’ union. Mr. Hollis was one of a handful of career-consulting firms selected a few years ago to work with athletes in the NFL union who had lost their jobs. Hollis has since ended that association.

Now he has been approved by the NFL itself to handle life and career transitioning through the NFL Players Programs. He plans to begin intervention early by distributing materials to and speaking to active players. They will be advised to set aside part of their salary to pay for his outplacement service.

This opportunity for Hollis did not come swiftly, or without effort. He first contacted an NFL executive with the idea in 1992, he said. Not until this year were the final details hammered out.

He knew that a need existed. Though a few high-visibility superstars parlay their talent into big salaries and lucrative endorsement deals, the vast majority of their teammates are unheralded and unknown.

“There are 30 teams, and 60 players to a team, which is 1,800 players,” Hollis said, in stark illustration. “Few people can name even 20 people of those 1,800.”

Last year, NFL Player Programs director Lem Burnham took a liking to Hollis and his idea. The programs that Burnham oversees have been a quiet force shaping the lives of athletes beyond the sidelines, away from the roar of the crowd and glare of the media eye. The NFL arranges for players to get family counseling, study for a college degree, and work at internships.

Since 1992, its first year, NFL Player Programs have grown tremendously popular. Contrary to common perception that these athletes fritter away the months between football seasons, last off-season almost 300 were enrolled in higher education programs with 191 more working in internships. That total constitutes almost a third of the league.

“Players are very serious about their life after the NFL,” Burnham said.

The programs took care of the active player, but the average career in the NFL lasts less than four years. What happens when a player is cut from the team, Burnham said, “was the piece I had some restless evenings over.”

He expects Mr. Hollis to ease that anxiety. Over a single season, up to 300 players will be cut, he estimated, during training camp or later in the season.

At any moment, a career-ending injury is just one hard tackle or twisting dive away.

When they leave the NFL, “It’s like they’re college students all over again.” Burnham said. A capable cornerback or nose tackle finds he lacks job market skills. Burnham believes it only fair that players receive Mr. Hollis’s services, which most major companies would provide as a matter of course in a downsizing.

“If highly skilled, corporate, sophisticated people need help, it would make sense that our players, who are not sophisticated in the working of corporate America, would need help also,” he said.

An NFL player has a dearth of actual work experience, but a wealth of intangibles valuable to a potential employer. Hollis pointed out. These men have learned skills of teamwork and team leadership. They focus with a singular intensity on objectives and success.

And, Hollis said, “When they get knocked down, they get right back up. They have this attitude of keep going, keep going, and keep going."

As with all their other clients, Mr. Hollis and his staff will design a marketing strategy for each individual athlete. The firm uses a set of information packed CD-ROM computer disks, each one laden with statistics about hundreds of thousands of United States companies, to target possible employers.

No contract has been signed between NFL and Mr. Hollis; Burnham has left the relationship open: “We’re working with Rick Hollis. He is working with us.” The NFL intends to give the life and career-transitioning program at least a few years before trying to judge its worth.

Hollis thinks that will be long enough to prove he can make an impact on the NFL, even if he never could do a 4.0 in the 40. He refused to talk about how much money he stands to make, but did say, with untempered enthusiasm, “We’re in great hopes that this relationship will continue for many, many years.”

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