13 Ex-Football Players and Finance: The Good & the Bad

After success of varying degrees in the NFL or college football, nine former players took the high road and four others the very low road

Steve Bono had a productive NFL career as a QB, and a productive post-football career as an FA. (Photo: AP) Steve Bono had a productive NFL career as a QB, and a productive post-football career as an FA. (Photo: AP)

Despite the double distraction of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o and his fake dead girlfriend, the Super Bowl will be upon us on Feb. 3 in New Orleans to regain our attention. Just beyond the Super Bowl hubbub, former players, some wearing Super Bowl rings, have found a life toiling in the financial world.

AdvisorOne found 13 former football players who went on to careers in business, mostly as financial advisors, though some as company figureheads to help boost a business' profile.

From excellent players like Lincoln Kennedy, a star offensive lineman, to those that had a moment in the sun like Chuck Mercein in the 1967 Ice Bowl and others who performed mostly in NFL obscurity, many have helped others plan for a secure financial future.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of high profile athletes blowing big paydays on bad investments, criminal activity or on high living. Along those lines, we also included three former players and a coach who ended in the crosshairs of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) because of financial misdeeds. First, the nine "good" former players followed by the four "bad" former players:

THE GOOD:

Phil McConkey catching a pass against the Denver Broncos in 1986. (Photo: AP)1) Phil McConkey

Notable Team: New York Giants

Company: Academy Securities

Position: Partner, President

Degrees and Accreditation: Naval Academy, FINRA Series 7, 63, 24, 55 and 65 registrations

Phil McConkey has enjoyed uncommon success throughout his life, from serving as a pilot in the U.S. Navy to winning a Super Bowl in 1987 as a wide receiver for the New York Giants to life as an investment advisor. He has spent more than 15 years on Wall Street, including a stint as head of business development for BNP Paribas division Malbec Partners, as well as work with FTN Midwest and the Private Client Services Division of Deutsche Bank.

Wayne Chrebet announcing his retirement in 2006. (Photo: AP)2) Wayne Chrebet

Notable Team: New York Jets

Company: Barclays Wealth

Position: Assistant Vice President

Degrees and Accreditation: Graduated from Hoftsra, earned Series 7, 31 and 66 licenses.

Wayne Chrebet was always the wide receiver that astonished NFL fans with his ability to thrive despite his lack of size. And thrive he did in 11 seasons from 1995 through 2005 with the New York Jets, retiring as the second-leading pass catcher in team history. Chrebet then directed his energy to a Wall Street career, first with Morgan Stanley based in Red Bank, N.J., then joining Barclays Capital in 2012. He told The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that it was a natural fit since he was always interested in managing his own money.

Lincoln Kennedy3) Lincoln Kennedy

Notable Team: Oakland Raiders

Company: Kennedy Insurance Agency

Position: CEO and President

Degrees and Accreditation: Graduated from University of Washington

Lincoln Kennedy was a star in college as an offensive lineman and continued his stellar play in the NFL. He was picked ninth in the draft by the Atlanta Falcons in 1993, and after three seasons was traded to the Oakland Raiders. He went to three consecutive Pro Bowls and started Super Bowl XXXVII for Oakland. He later played one season with the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League in 2007. After retiring, he began a career with Farmers Insurance before opening his own agency.

Chuck Mercein4) Chuck Mercein

Notable Team: Green Bay Packers

Company: Oppenheimer, various

Position: Institutional Sales Trader

Degrees and Accreditation: Graduated from Yale

Chuck Mercein’s NFL career took off when Vince Lombardi called him to join the Green Bay Packers. The year was 1967, and the legendary coach needed to bolster his team’s running attack as it tried to win its unprecedented third consecutive championship. The move worked out better than anyone could have expected, when the Yale grad made several key plays as running back during the final drive of the Ice Bowl game against the Dallas Cowboys, which lifted the Packers into the NFL’s first Super Bowl. Glory on the field was fleeting, as Mercein was passed over during the subsequent Super Bowl, but he had a 45-year run on Wall Street. And he will always have the Sports Illustrated cover of him in the Ice Bowl to hang on his wall. 

Reggie Smith5) Reggie Smith

Notable Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Company: Water Tower Financial Partners

Position: Financial Advisor

Degrees and Accreditation: Graduated from the University of Kansas

Reggie Smith made a bold choice after being a three-year starter as an offensive tackle at Kansas: He signed with the upstart USFL rather than the NFL. After three years, the league folded and he headed for the older league. A stop in Denver (it didn’t work out) was followed by a stint as a replacement player during the NFL lockout in 1987. He played three games with the Buccaneers before starting a new career. He currently does charitable work, heads up an alumni chapter of the NFL Players Association and works as a financial advisor.

Steven Israel6) Steven Israel

Notable Team: Los Angeles Rams

Company: AFLAC

Position: Insurance Associate

Degrees and Accreditation: Graduated from the University of Pittsburgh; holds Business Management & Entrepreneurship Certificates from Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business

Steven Israel was drafted by the Rams in the second round of the 1992 draft and enjoyed a decade-long career as a defensive back for four teams. After his playing days, Israel was a college football analyst for ESPNU for two years and embarked on a career in the financial services industry. Before landing at AFLAC, he was a financial representative at Northwestern Mutual Life.

 Bernard Robertson7) Bernard Robertson III

Notable Team: Chicago Bears

Company: Merrill Lynch

Position: Head of Financial Advisory Team

Degrees and Accreditation: Graduated from Tulane University with a B.S. in Sports Medicine/Kinesiology and B.A. in Sociology.

Bernard Robertson had a storied college career blocking for the 1998 undefeated Tulane team. He then played three years in the NFL for the Bears and the Buffalo Bills. Like most professional athletes, his career was short and he needed to begin anew. He jumped into life as a financial advisor before joining Merrill Lynch in 2008. He heads his own Merrill Lynch Financial Advisory Team, and is the client relationship and investment manager for the team handling the team's high-net-worth and professional athlete clients.

 Steve Bono with the Kansas City Chiefs. (Photo: AP)8) Steve Bono

Notable Team: San Francisco 49ers

Company: Constellation Wealth Advisors

Position: Principal

Degrees and Accreditation: Graduated from UCLA

Steve Bono was a quarterback for 15 years in the NFL earning a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers and a Pro Bowl berth for leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 13-3 record in 1995. After retiring, Bono went into financial services, eventually serving as vice president in Bank of America’s Private Bank and in the venture services arm of the Investment Banking Division at ThinkEquity Partners. In 2009, he brought a decade of experience to Constellation, based in the San Francisco area.

Reginald Wilkes9) Reginald Wilkes

Notable Team: Philadelphia Eagles

Company: Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

Position: First Vice President, Wealth Management; Senior Financial Advisor

Degrees and Accreditation: Georgia Institute of Technology. He holds his NASD Series 7, 63 and 65 licenses as well as Life, Health and Variable Insurance licenses

As a linebacker, Wilkes lasted a decade in the NFL from 1978 through 1987 and played in the 1981 Super Bowl with the Eagles before finishing his career with the Atlanta Falcons. Since then, he has spent nearly two decades as a financial advisor. While playing football, he spent the off-season working at Merrill Lynch and joined them after retiring from the NFL. He later began a RIA firm, Pro Cap, which he sold to Mercantile Trust Bank. He returned to Merrill Lynch in 2007.  He focuses on helping athletes manage their money and prepare for life after sports. He is registered with the NFL Players Association and has helped NBA players as well.

THE BAD:

Jim Donnan coaching the Georgia Bulldogs. (Photo: AP)10) Jim Donnan

Notable Team: University of Georgia

Company: GLC Limited

Position: Partner

Jim Donnan, who was a star quarterback at North Carolina State in the '60s, won renown as a college football coach from 1990 thorugh 2000 at Marshall and then Georgia. In five years at the latter school, he won 68% of his games and was perfect in five bowl games. His overall record of 104-40 landed him a berth in the College Football Hall of Fame.

After that, Donnan’s life took a nasty turn. Last summer the SEC charged him with helping run a Ponzi scheme by promising investors a 50% to 400% return on their money in GLC Limited, a liquidation company that bought and resold appliances and furniture. Donnan and his partner collected $80 million and used just $12 million to run the business, which the SEC alleged was a sham. The case has not yet gone to trial. Investors included high-profile football players and coaches, including Barry Switzer, Frank Beamer and Tommy Tuberville.

Willie Gault. (Photo: AP)11) Willie Gault

Notable Team: Chicago Bears

Company: Heart Tronics

Position: CEO

Willie Gault was at the top of the athletic world. He played wide receiver with the Chicago Bears and was part of the team’s lone Super Bowl victory in 1986. Later he played for the Los Angeles Rams and even landed a spot in the Olympics as part of the U.S. bobsled team. Gault would have gone to the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow as a sprinter if the U.S. had not boycotted it.

But Gault ran afoul of the law, the SEC says, when Heart Tronics installed him as a figurehead CEO. Gault’s celebrity helped pump up the company’s stock; the SEC charged Gault and five others with defrauding investors as the company allegedly falsified sales records. The SEC's civil case gainst Gault has been stayed pending the outcome of a criminal case against another defendant.

Daniel 'Rudy' Ruettiger12) Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger

Notable Team: Notre Dame

Company: Rudy Nutrition

Position: Owner

Made famous by the movie “Rudy,” Daniel Ruettiger apparently tried to write his own Hollywood story. He started a sports drink company, Rudy Nutrition, and set about trying to market it. Things took a dark turn when the SEC charged Ruettiger and 11 others in a pump-and-dump scam, illegally pumping up the stock price of the company, and netting $11 million in illicit profits. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Ruettiger’s brother said “Rudy” had settled by paying $382,866 in ill-gotten gains, interest and penalties. He also agreed to a ban on ever being an officer or director of a company promoting penny stocks.

Fran Tarkenton, as broadcaster with ABC. (Photo: AP) 13) Fran Tarkenton

Notable Team: Minnesota Vikings

Company: KnowledgeWare

Position: President

Fran Tarkenton had a remarkable career as an NFL quarterback. He led the Vikings to four Super Bowls in the 1970s (losing them all), still ranks sixth in passing yards, fourth in touchdown passes and fifth in victories. Images of him scrambling to evade pass rushers are indelible to anyone who saw him play.

After retiring, he founded Fran Tarkenton Software. After merging with KnowledgeWare in 1994 he stayed on as president. All was well until 1999 when the SEC charged Tarkenton with directing a multimillion-dollar fraud in which his company claimed phony revenues in 1992 and ’93 (the company was sold in 1994). Tarkenton paid $154,187 in fines without admitting wrongdoing. Tarkenton later became a TV pitchman for financial products.

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