Friday, January 18, 2002

Matchmaker

Pepper + Snyder - Marty = Spurrier.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The matchmaker in the biggest sports story of the week -- Steve Spurrier taking the coaching job for the Washington Redskins -- was none other than Pepper Rodgers.

The Redskins and owner Daniel Snyder signed Spurrier to a five-year contract for $25 million after firing Coach Marty Schottenheimer Monday. Spurrier was introduced at a live press conference on ESPN Tuesday evening.

"Dan has told everybody I had a lot to do with it," Rodgers said Monday. "I'm sure I did, plus a lot of money."

Rodgers talks frequently to Spurrier and said he "gave him a comfort level" with Snyder. Rodgers and Spurrier go back almost 40 years, when Rodgers was an assistant coach at Florida and Spurrier was quarterback. Spurrier later was an assistant at Georgia Tech when Rodgers was head coach.

"I paid Steve $30,000 to work for me," Rodgers said. "He's come a long way."

Rodgers left Memphis two years ago to work for FedEx CEO Fred Smith in the corporate sky box at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. He became close friends with Snyder and now works for him, with the title of head of football operations. Unofficially, he is Snyder's sidekick and walking Rolodex, thanks to his half century in football, including the years he and Smith spent trying to bring the NFL to Memphis.

Snyer's courtship of Spurrier began a year ago. "We tried to hire him when we hired Marty," Rodgers said. "I thought he was going to come here then, but he thought he could win the national championship and his family wasn't ready to move away from Florida."

Rodgers and Snyder talked to Spurrier after he announced his resignation from Florida following the Orange Bowl. Rodgers won't say where they met but says it wasn't Gainesville, as the national media have reported. He was also at Snyder's house Sunday afternoon and evening when the decision was made to fire Schottenheimer.

Schottenheimer got $7.5 million in severance on his four-year contract.

"Don't feel sorry for Marty," said Rodgers, who was fired three times as a college coach. "When I got fired I sure didn't get $7.5 million."

Shocker! Politics involved in arena bond financing deal.

Divvying up the city and county's bond business is normally about as boring as an auditor's fine print. A few public officials get wined and dined, the same old financial firms get the business, some salesmen make a nice commission, and another road or power plant or municipal sewer gets built.

But when a bond guy with 23 years' experience in Memphis says the bond financing of the biggest public project in city and county history is also "the most political deal I have ever seen," that's news.

That's what Rob Baird, head of public finance at Morgan Keegan, told the Sports Authority last week when it chose New York-based Goldman Sachs, which closed its small Memphis office last October, as headliner on the $250 million arena deal. Morgan Keegan got second billing. In financing etiquette, this is like putting one of your blue-chip corporate citizens in the upper deck at The Pyramid instead of courtside.

The issue isn't money. The underwriters will split about $2 million. "It's prestige," agreed Baird and the city and county's financial consultant, Marlin Mosby.

Mosby said a national firm like Goldman Sachs had more clout, more experience in supposedly exotic financial instruments, and would get a lower interest rate by half a percentage point, which he said is worth $2.5 million in interest savings over 30 years. Baird insists Morgan Keegan has plenty of expertise and could get just as good a rate. Over 30 years, $2.5 million in interest works out to a whopping $83,333 a year or about what hot dog vendors will probably be making at the new arena in 2035.

Qualifications aside, politics is about people and relationships. On that score, Morgan Keegan is not everyone's darling.

A few years ago, Morgan Keegan and Mayor Willie Herenton floated an ill- fated proposal to sell MLGW. About the same time, Rodney Herenton, son of the mayor, went to work for Morgan Keegan.

The MLGW idea bombed but left some politicians feeling that Morgan Keegan was greedy and out of touch. With a majority-black population, diversity is a lot bigger issue to local officials than whether a silk-stocking brokerage firm gets its feelings hurt. Coincidentally or not, Rodney Herenton and Mark Yates left Morgan Keegan last year, where they were among a handful of black professionals, for rival First Tennessee. Neither the Herentons nor Yates have ever publicly indicated any dissatisfaction with Morgan Keegan, but minority participation is clearly the name of the game in all aspects of the new arena. Minority firms got 46 percent of the bond business. The selection of law firms, architects, PR firms, and general contractors has been similarly balanced.

The former head of the Sports Authority, Reggie Barnes of Morgan Keegan, resigned to avoid any conflict of interest. Barnes hosted an NBA-related meeting at all-white Memphis Country Club last year which ticked off Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey. Then Barnes cavalierly dismissed Bailey's objections. A little payback may have been another factor in the bond allocation.

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