Patriot Games

Super Lawyer Jack Mula never tires of Super Bowls

Published in 2005 Massachusetts Super Lawyers — November 2005

Three years ago, Jack Mula became so caught up in what he was doing at work that he had to be told to move a few feet or he’d be nailed with confetti shot from a cannon.

It’s not every legal job where this would be an issue, but this isn’t any ordinary gig — Mula is chief administrative counsel for the New England Patriots, and he was watching his team upset the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI at the New Orleans Superdome.

In his job he negotiates player contracts, works on stadium issues and negotiates and reviews all business contracts for the team and Gillette Stadium. While not all of the work is glamorous, Mula doesn’t complain. He’s 48 and knows he has a cool job.

The position didn’t always seem so amazing. When he started with the Patriots, it would have been easy to question whether he was suffering from a head injury. He was an established sports agent at the time, doing well, supporting himself and his wife and three kids. But he chose to leave that … for the Patriots?

Sure, he loves football, but these were the Patriots, not the current version, all streamlined and precise and victorious. This was 1999. The team was coming off a 9-7 season. It was about to enter an 8-8 one. Bill Parcells was long gone. Bill Belichick wasn’t a thought. Tom Brady was at the University of Michigan. And the team played at Foxboro Stadium, which to call it functional is being generous.

None of that mattered because Mula’s ultimate work situation isn’t about flying solo; he likes coming off the field muddy with a group of fellow warriors.

“I want to be part of a group, an organization, of belonging. I’ve been a member of a team since I was young,” Mula says.

The Education of a Chowderhead

Mula grew up in Waltham, where he still resides today. His introduction to football came from his uncle, Jimmy Falzone, who founded the city’s Pop Warner League and coached a team, the Devil Dogs. Most kids weren’t allowed to play until they were 10, but Uncle Jimmy let Mula on the team at age 7. The field was 200 yards from Mula’s house, and Sarge called everyone a chowderhead.

“I loved everything about the game,” Mula says.

Mula continued playing, through Waltham High School and then at the University of Massachusetts, where he played the monster back position — a hybrid linebacker/defensive back. Mula was good, but he knew that Amherst was where his playing career would end. Since he always seemed to be presenting the other side, which Mula’s father bluntly called arguing about everything, he considered law as a profession. There were aspects of it that appealed to him: the intense preparation, the need to think on one’s feet, the striving for a win. It was football without the hamstring pull. He enrolled in the New England School of Law.

But while in law school, football kept popping back into his life. First, it was Fred Smerlas, the former Buffalo Bill and high school teammate of Mula’s. When he made the Pro Bowl in 1981, Smerlas found out about a ritual in which everyone’s salaries were pulled out of a helmet and read aloud. Smerlas discovered he was the lowest-paid guy at his position at $50,000. (The highest was $400,000.) Mula’s first attempt at helping Smerlas receive a salary bump resulted only in a verbal thrashing from the Bills’ acting general manager. But dealing with a new general manager a year later, Mula got Smerlas his pay increase.

Smerlas’ teammates started asking Mula for assistance. And in 1982, when the short-lived United States Football League was formed, “I became the Dear Abby for anyone who ever thought they could play professional football,” he says of the requests he received from wannabe players. He wasn’t making any money, but he liked the idea of helping guys get their shot.

After graduating in 1983 he took a job with the Waltham Attorney’s Office, doing what city attorneys do — negotiating every conceivable claim. Not always exciting stuff, but it shifted his attitude about lawyers.

“To negotiate and bring two sides together without a winner and a loser being declared was more appealing to me than the view I had as a litigator,” he says.

While at the city attorney’s office he continued to moonlight as a player rep. He mostly attracted the middle-round, meat-andpotato guys; they saw him as someone who would fight for them like they were top draft picks. Still, Mula wasn’t about creating fantasies for his clients.

“I was an advocate for them. That I liked. I had to argue a case on a client’s behalf to get him what I thought was a fair contract. But I also was cognizant of the effect the negotiations had on the team as a whole,” he says.

Putting aside ego for the betterment of the team? Not always the easiest message to communicate to an athlete who’s been a star at some level and has a finite earnings window. But Mula stuck with honesty.

“I was not blowing smoke anywhere,” he says.

Steve DeOssie experienced that approach when the former Dallas Cowboy and New York Giant linebacker signed with the Patriots in 1994 as a long snapper. DeOssie, at first, was reluctant. Playing since 1984, he was comfortable and ready to retire. But Mula reminded him of how much he loved football — how he could be part of something with his hometown team. DeOssie liked that. But the reality was DeOssie would have to accept a 40 percent pay cut, which he did. Still, DeOssie was thrilled with the outcome as his career was extended by two years.

“I wish I had understood more about agents out of college. I would have gone with Jack,” DeOssie says. “He had no problem telling you the hard truth. Most agents will tell you a soft lie to get you as a client or make themselves appear bigger than they are.”

Switching Sides

In 1995, Mula left city government and joined Bob Woolf Associates to work full-time as a sports agent. He stayed for two years before deciding to go out on his own.

He had immediate success finding jobs for his clients. He got Rocket Ismail a multiyear agreement with Carolina, he inked a free-agent contract for a young Priest Holmes with Baltimore and, in his most satisfying deal, engineered Doug Flutie’s return from Canada to the Buffalo Bills.

Things were good and he wasn’t looking to change. But in the spring of 1999, while negotiating a player’s contract extension with the Patriots, Mula learned that the team was looking for an attorney who could both negotiate contracts and deal with real estate and zoning issues. Mula thought he was right for the job and, in September, accepted the team’s offer to switch sides.

The Patriots hadn’t won anything but he liked the focus and determination of owner Robert Kraft. Mula says Kraft explained his business philosophy like it was a stock portfolio — it’s not about picking one stud but improving the bottom to strengthen the whole foundation.

Mula had found his team.

His many duties include dealing with sponsorship agreements and real estate acquisitions. Footballwise, Mula works on player contracts, such as Tom Brady’s and Tedy Bruschi’s deals. The organization’s negotiating philosophy is pretty much like a Belichick press conference — no nonsense, bereft of flash and focused on what’s best for the team.

“We’re not going to make any unnecessary trips across the country,” Mula says. “There are no nights out or cocktails or golf trips when we’re negotiating. It’s business. It’s done via the phone, via the fax, via e-mail, and in person when it needs to be. Then you lock yourselves in a room and you hammer out a deal.”

He works hard not to take the team’s success for granted. After last year’s Super Bowl victory, Mula tried something different when it came time for the victory parade. Instead of riding with the team he watched the procession from the street, with his three sons, their friends and a $12.50 cigar.

“I don’t want to ever have the feeling that we’re accepting of where we’re at and we don’t need to improve or get better in what we’re doing,” he says.

It’s this kind of work ethic that Mula learned years ago while playing for Uncle Jimmy.

“He taught us we’re going to stay out and practice a little longer,” Mula says. “We’re gonna hit a little harder. We’re going to suffer a little more. But we’re going win a lot more. And we did.”

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