Last week, after two months of speculation, Bernie Kosar gave in to the fundamental human desire to be a millionaire. With two years of eligibility left at Miami, where he became a star overnight, quarterbacking the Hurricanes to the 1983 national championship, Kosar declared himself eligible for professional football—and for the $5 to $7 million his agent, who was only his dentist until this month, figures to extract from an NFL (or USFL) team.
Dr. John Geletka is an old family friend who once tried to recruit Kosar for Ohio State. Last summer he went into Kosar's mouth to remove four wisdom teeth. Now he's prepping to go into an NFL's owner's pocket for the five-to-seven, feeling Kosar will "probably get it" and "is certainly worth it." Kosar, a finance major, says the numbers "sound about right" to him. He uses the Doug Flutie Hypothesis in his figuring.
During a break in the Hurricanes' spring practice schedule, Kosar went home to Boardman, Ohio, where he made his decision. He said it was "just not fair to Miami" and coach Jimmy Johnson to keep the issue in doubt. A more convincing reason was that his father, Bernie Sr., and Geletka have been "asking around" for weeks to see if coaches and other football authorities would agree that two years of varsity play—and 5,971 passing yards, 40 touchdown passes and 22 Hurricane records—were enough to make him a hot ticket in the NFL.
Geletka is a friend of Joe Namath's agent, Jimmy Walsh. Namath told Geletka, "Kosar has all the tools. He could play right now." Howard Schnellenberger, who coached Kosar at Miami in 1982 (a redshirt season) and '83 and is now at Louisville, said earlier that as a freshman Kosar exceeded even Namath's potential and was "already smarter about the game than most pro quarterbacks." Says Don Shula of the Dolphins, "Kosar is the real thing."
Kosar had another reason for turning pro now. He said he wasn't getting any rest. Although something of a closet egoist who has made a minor career of being his own cool self—he travels everywhere and receives everybody in shorts or sweat pants, high-top sneakers and sunglasses tucked into his dark curls—Kosar said he was "fed up" with the plague of requests that descended on him after he hinted he might give up the "poverty" you go through playing major-college football for the lucrative "slavery" you give yourself over to with the NFL draft.
The league has a rule against signing a player before: 1) he completes his NCAA eligibility or 2) he graduates or 3) five years have elapsed since his class enrolled. Whichever NFL team selects Kosar in the April 30 draft can rest easy. An Academic All-America with a 3.27 GPA, he's a year ahead of his class and should breeze to his graduation in June. In the unlikely event that he fails to get his diploma before the start of the season, he'll be prohibited from playing and the team that drafted him will lose its rights to him. None of his coaches or teammates was critical of his decision. In fact, center Ian Sinclair said he would have "checked Bernie's pulse if he waited any longer to decide to go."
Kosar says he "loves Miami, especially the beaches," and will "hate to leave," but that the NCAA rules that make "scrounges" out of scholarship athletes also influenced his decision to run to the money. He said it can be a drag running away from it as a college athlete. In his case, he had to do it without wheels. He sold his only car, a 1980 Skylark, last year to pay for other needs. He says he certainly won't miss trying to make meals and ends meet on weekends on the $20 weekly stipend the NCAA allows.
Kosar wants to play for Cleveland, which is 60 miles from Boardman. He has been a Browns fan since he was a kid, and although he has been too busy with his own football lately to recite the Cleveland lineup (in the club's present chaotic state, he says, "I don't believe Cleveland could recite the Cleveland lineup"), he would love to play "at home."
In truth, Kosar is more of an incorrigible family man than a Browns fan. He's not loath to hug his father and kiss his mother, Geri, in front of others. On the wall of his dorm room he has two pictures of his 17-year-old brother, Brian. After his announcement last week, he forestalled would-be interviewers to take Brian to a Kinks concert in Cleveland. Asked what extravagances were in his future when he "got all that money," Kosar said none—no sleek sports cars, no gold jewelry—"but I would like to give my family the security they've given me."
The Browns, meanwhile, were trying hard to secure Kosar. Cleveland needs a top quarterback the way an automobile needs an engine. To land him, though, Cleveland will likely have to part with several regulars as well as draft picks and cash. This is because in the routing of this particular draft deal, Cleveland will have to go through Houston. The Oilers have the second choice in the draft. The first belongs to Buffalo, but the Bills have already signed Virginia Tech defensive lineman Bruce Smith. Cleveland and Houston have enough common needs to do business. The Oilers already have a quarterback, $6 million man Warren Moon, but they could use defensive players. The Browns are well-stocked with defensive players but need a quarterback.
About the same time Geletka was fielding his first offer for a Kosar product endorsement last week (from Nike), Cleveland was indeed talking with Houston general manager Ladd Herzeg. Herzeg has been offered a spring harvest of Brown players—names in the various proposals include linebackers Chip Banks, Tom Cousineau and Clay Matthews and cornerbacks Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield—for the rights to Kosar. Browns owner Art Modell told Herzeg he had until "five o'clock Friday [the 15th]" to make a deal.
Five o'clock came and went. Modell decided to wait a little longer. Maybe he'll have to wait a lot longer. Herzeg, a former accountant with a Cleveland firm that used to do work for the Browns, apparently was enjoying his stint in the catbird seat. Minnesota also would love to have Kosar. The Vikings' quarterback coach, Marc Trestman, coached Kosar for three years at Miami, and Minnesota needs a quarterback as badly as Cleveland. But when the Oilers rejected a Viking offer on Friday, Minnesota apparently dropped out of the running. All told, as of Monday at least eight NFL clubs had expressed an interest in striking a deal with Houston for Kosar. One, which Herzeg refuses to name, offered him any two starters he wanted plus the team's first-round draft pick.
Kosar listened to the telephone ring for a day or two and then flew back to Miami with still another alternative to consider: the USFL's Orlando franchise, which has territorial rights to him and has stated its desire to enter the sweepstakes. Orlando is a long way from home, but it's not very far from the beach.
A 3.27 student, Kosar passed for 40 TDs and 5,971 yards in two seasons at Miami.
RONALD C. MODRA
Bernie's brain trust in contract negotiations will be his father (left) and dentist Geletka.