The Big East met last night to decide the fate of its two biggest powers, the agents for Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez. Experts and inside sources said it was anything but an easy fight for either party.
"Both guys brought their "A" game," says sports agent watcher Ernie Allbeck. "With so much on the line for both coaches, they brought their weatherproof BlackBerries."
Allbeck smiles. "They sweat buckets into them all night."
Senior EDSBS sports agent analyst Cal Treadwell agrees. "Both agents found themselves wrapped in a web of lies, ballooning or deflating contract numbers, denials, half-truths, equivocations, and just flat-out horseshit that they've never experienced tonight. If either of them lost focus for an instant, their client may have ended up with a raw deal, or even worse staying where they are."
Treadwell pauses. "No sports agent wants that to happen."
Most observers agreed that Russ Campbell won the match in a squeaker. The keys for the game, according to experts:
Speed. Moving fast was essential, an element of the equation that favored Petrino's agent Russ Campbell. "Campbell can type 85 words a minute on his Blackberry and call three people in the time it takes you to suck the foam off a latte," said Treadwell. "He's so fast that at one point last night he countered his own offer with a lowball, got mock-insulted and accidentally left a five minute tirade on his own answering machine in response. And he was still fast enough to call Chris Mortensen and get a back-channel rumor planted that Rodriguez's agent was the source.
Barry Zuckercorn has nothing on Russ Campbell.
Deception> Campbell was thought to have the edge, but Art Knoughton, Campbell's opposition and agent for Rich Rodriguez, taught the youngster a few tricks and almost took the lead with his simple but elaborate ploys.
Hank Goldberg of ESPN watched a particularly amusing big of legerdemain.
"Campbell had the Browns on IM, the Hurricanes on his cell phone, and was texting UNC just to piss off Knoughton. He's doing this all with the President of the U of L in the room--that's just the kind of balls he's got. So Knoughton--who's on the phone with WVU boosters trying to squeeze some cash out of them by threatening to send Coach Rod to FSU--gets the Prez, buys him a scotch, and tells him to call Campbell from the hallway and talk really, really, slow. Campbell spends three minutes on the phone just pulling his hair out because the Prez is talking so slowly."
The gambit worked: "In those three minutes Knoughton got Miami on the line, disconnected the wireless modem for the room, and hid Campbell's Blackberry under a tub of boiled shrimp. It was brilliant."
Composure. Both agents displayed nerves of steel, but a few crucial flubs cost Knoughton the match. "Campbell made the right decision by not eating," said Treadwell. "A good agent wants no distractions, and food is just one more in a long list." Knoughton, who hit the free Papa John's pizza buffet located in the VIP concourse, was sidetracked for a few crucial moments in the third quarter as he gave in to an irresistable urge to defecate.
"Art didn't get off the phone, of course, but nobody's thinking straight at a time like that. It just ran right through him, and in the lapse he lost priceless seconds on Campbell," says Goldberg. "Not the first time that's happened, either: if it weren't for a bad plate of chicken wings, Barry Switzer would have never been the coach of the Dallas Cowboys."
Campbell soared forward on an empty stomach, but nearly botched his own evening's work with overthink. At one point in the evening, according to sources, Campbell had accidentally signed Petrino up for a sweetheart deal with Italian Serie A Team Inter Milan, a 12 million dollar a year package that included a record deal, a castle in Tyrol, and a house reserved for a stable of well-maintained multi-ethnic mistresses. The only sticking point: Petrino has never coached soccer, and had no urge to do so.
Petrino: this was almost his.
"Campbell nearly blew the whole night with that one, but even then, the fact that he had them begging for an American football coach is testament to his skill," said Treadwell. "Petrino even agreed to do it for five minutes before reconsidering."
Knoughton, hopelessly behind, spent the last five minutes of the fourth quarter playing catchup. "He was dejected. I heard him say 'I don't even feel like bluffing with UNC.'" Knoughton was last seen heading for the exits after throwing his Blackberry in the garbage can.
Bystanders marveled at the tenacity and ingenuity of both agents, though. "Hopefully this is a big statement game for the Big East. We want to show that when it comes to upward mobility at any costs, our agents can compete with the best," said Campbell in between calls to Butch Davis and Michigan State's AD.
Hank Goldberg agreed. "This is greatest agent matchup since the Saban/Spurrier Citrus Bowl of 2000. And one of those guys died in the middle of a perk bluff. That alone should tell you something about the champions we saw doing battle tonight."
Both agents declined to comment on their clients' contacts, saying they were happy where they were.