Josh Luchs Says He Paid Players as Agent, Indicts ESPN's Mel Kiper
Former NFL agent Josh Luchs came clean in a recent interview with George Dohrmann of Sports Illustrated, saying he provided an abundance of cash and numerous benefits to college football players in hopes of signing them as clients.
Some of the big names Luchs shares candid experiences with in his tell-all are Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Shockey, Ryan Leaf, Tony Banks, Joel Steed, Jonathan Ogden and R. Jay Soward. Ogden and Soward admit to receiving benefits from Luchs in one form or another.
Luchs claims to have offered and given cash or benefits to countless college football players and names 30 of them in the SI report. He also indicts Mel Kiper Jr. (above) and accuses the ESPN analyst of scheming with him and agent Gary Wichard.
Luchs also talks about his start in the industry, former partnerships and his lost legal battle with agent Wichard, who has been at the forefront of the major ongoing NCAA investigation with the University of North Carolina.
Eight players confirmed to Sports Illustrated that they accepted money or benefits from Luchs, while seven other players admitted to knowing Luchs but declined comment on whether they were offered any benefits from him. A handful of players initially responded to Sports Illustrated but did not reply to further messages.
Five players and Kiper denied either all or part of Luchs' story. Four other players to whom Luchs mentioned he gave money are deceased.
The NCAA issued a statement in response to Luchs' story.
"While we don't know the validity of the claims, it is nonetheless disturbing. What we do know is that unscrupulous agents are targeting student-athletes. That is why representatives from the NCAA, Collegiate Commissioners Association, NFL, NFL Players Association, American Football Coaches Association, state government and the agent community are collaborating to identify potential solutions to the problem."
Since the NCAA has a four-year statute of limitations on violations, and the most recent allegation was in 2005, it is highly unlikely that any of the players or schools Luchs claims direct involvement with will be under investigation by the NCAA.
Luchs notes that Kiper, a friend of Wichard, would often come on the phone and talk to college athletes. Luchs recalls that college players figured if Wichard knew Kiper, then Kiper would rank them favorably in his draft rankings.
Kiper noted to SI that he is a friend of Wichard but "denied that it was prearranged for him to call during the Willie Howard meeting or any other." Kiper notes that he provides players with an honest analysis of how he has them ranked and speaks to many agents and players over the phone.
"My player ratings are not related to my relationship with Gary or any other agent," Kiper told SI. "There are many examples of players Gary represented who I have not ranked highly." Howard, who sat in a meeting with Luchs and Wichard while Kiper was on the phone, confirmed Luchs' account.
Luchs felt it was necessary to let the public know what goes on behind closed doors between college players and agents.
"Now, agents still do it, but they are more secretive and use middlemen. Anyone who thinks it doesn't go on needs to look at all the schools currently being investigated by the NCAA for contact between players and agents, places like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina," Luchs told SI. "It goes on everywhere."
Luchs' lost legal battle with Wichard eventually led to his suspension by the NFLPA in 2007 and a $25,000 fine. The NFLPA declined the appeal by Luchs in 2008.
"That was it. I would keep the two loyal clients who didn't leave me after the suspension, but I wouldn't recruit anymore. For all intents and purposes, I was done as an agent."
Luchs is considered by SI as a former "middle class of the industry agent," who reportedly represented more than 60 players in his career.
Although there should not be any direct NCAA repercussions from Luchs' dealings, his story resonates with the massive, ongoing NCAA investigation relating to UNC. Luchs claims that Wichard, a former partner of his, used his close ties to the college football coaching community to steer players Wichard's way.
Luchs tells SI a story that former Carolina assistant coach John Blake -- who had been with the University since 2007 -- worked closely with Wichard to help him land athletes from UNC.
Luchs goes into specifics about his dealings with certain players.
Soward, a former USC standout and first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000, confirmed receiving money from Luchs. Luchs notes that when Soward's father found out his son took money from the agent, he refused to have his son sign with Luchs. But Soward doesn't regret his decision to take money from Luchs. The former receiver claimed his scholarship money did not provide him enough money for food or rent. "I would do it again," Soward told SI. "I have four sons, and if somebody offered my son money in college and it meant he didn't have to be hungry, I would tell him to take it."
Luchs also reveals particulars about his relationship with Ryan Leaf. Luchs gave money and benefits to the former NFL quarterback for an extended period of time while he was at Washington State. Leaf, who was taken No. 2 in the 1998 NFL Draft, bypassed Luchs as an agent after a falling out between the two. Leaf decided to sign with Leigh Steinberg instead, after Luchs described the two as having an extremely close relationship. Luchs told SI that Leaf signed an "undated representation contract" with him as well.
"I remember Josh," Leaf said in a statement after being approached by SI. "As I recall, he was an old hometown friend of one or two of my teammates and we all hung out a bit. I don't remember him aspiring to be an agent. We were all about the same age and we were interested in having a good time more than anything else."
Luchs also claims to have flown to Ohio State to meet with Santonio Holmes in November 2005. When he met with Holmes outside a football building, Holmes reportedly said, "Listen, I want to save you the time. We don't need to meet. I've been taking money from [an agent] the last couple years, and he's been taking care of my family too."
Through a New York Jets spokesperson, SI reported that Holmes denied taking money from any agent while in college or telling Luchs he had taken money. But Luchs' former colleague at The Gersh Agency, Steve Feldman, confirmed that Holmes did in fact say he was taking money from another agent when they met, corroborating Luchs' story.
Additionally, Luchs recalls taking Ogden -- who retired in 2007 and was selected to 11 straight Pro Bowls while playing offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens -- to a Janet Jackson concert. Ogden refused to take money and did not sign with Luchs, but the agent recalls the night at the concert with Ogden to SI. "Instead of going to the concert with my girlfriend, I went with a 6-9 guy who weighed more than 300 pounds and who screamed 'Janet!' the whole night like a teenage girl."