Jim Solano has had a full and successful career as a sports agent. He has represented more than 700 NFL players and coaches, including more than 500 from the Eagles.
An amazing 18 of the 40 players on the Eagles’ 1980 Super Bowl team were Solano clients. He represented almost 30 players and coaches on Buddy Ryan’s Eagles teams from 1986 through 1990, including Ryan.
On Saturday evening, the 77-year-old Solano will be in Canton, Ohio, for the enshrinement of one of his clients and longtime friends — Harold Carmichael — into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He not only will be there for it, he will be the Eagles wide receiver’s enshrinement presenter.
“He called me about two months ago and said, ‘Listen, you’ve been with me a long time. I want you to present me,’ ” Solano said. “I said, ‘Wow. What a great honor.’ ”
Carmichael will be the first Solano client to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He has two clients — Carmichael and another former Eagles wide receiver, Harold Jackson — in the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
Safety Terry Hoage, one of Solano’s many Eagles clients during the Ryan era, is in the College Football Hall of Fame. And one of Solano’s few non-NFL clients is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: local college coaching legend Herb Magee.
Hall of Fame inductees frequently pick a family member or former teammate or coach to present them. Three years ago, Brian Dawkins chose his former Eagles teammate and good buddy, Troy Vincent, to present him when he was inducted.
But it’s not unheard of for players to choose their agent, particularly if they happen to be close friends. Champ Bailey had his agent, Jack Reale, present him in 2019. Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk had their agents, Eugene Parker and Rocky Arceneaux, present them in 2011. And Leigh Steinberg presented Warren Moon in 2006.
“We’ve been together for almost 50 years,” Carmichael said of Solano.
“Harold’s still my client,” Solano said. “I do his taxes. I handle his financial planning. I still do everything for him. We’re really good friends.”
Solano has taped a 2 1/2-minute presentation that will be shown Saturday night when Carmichael is inducted. He will be on the stage with Carmichael and hand him his bronze bust, which will go into the Hall of Fame. On Friday night, Solano will present Carmichael with his Hall of Fame jacket at the Gold Jacket dinner.
Carmichael, who was a seventh-round pick of the Eagles in 1971, was Solano’s second NFL client. Harold Jackson was his first.
“I had another agent when I got drafted,” Carmichael said. “But after I got to Philadelphia, Harold [Jackson] introduced me to Jim and I eventually asked him to represent me.”
Solano met Jackson in 1969 after the wideout was traded by the Rams to the Eagles. Jackson was living on the Temple campus and Solano, then a 25-year-old MBA and CPA, was teaching at Temple and also had an accounting practice.
“Harold’s still my client. I do his taxes. I handle his financial planning. I still do everything for him. We’re really good friends.”
“He asked me a couple of questions about taxes and investments,” Solano said. “I basically steered him away from five or six bad investments.
“A year later, he ended up leading the league in receiving yards. Pete Retzlaff was the Eagles’ general manager then. Harold said, ‘Jim, I really trust you. Would you help me negotiate my contract?’
“There were very few agents back in 1970. I walked into Pete’s office with Harold. He told Pete I was going to help him with his contract and Pete immediately walked out of the room.
“Harold was making $18,000 at the time. I got him a raise to $40,000. He was very happy. He had played in the SWAC [Southwest Athletic Conference] at Jackson State. Back then, the SWAC produced a lot of NFL players. Anybody that came into the league from the SWAC, Jackson would tell them they should hire me. That included Harold [Carmichael], who played in the SWAC at Southern University.”
As time went on, Solano’s stable of Eagles players grew. And grew.
“Everything was word of mouth back then,” he said. “Before free agency [in 1993], guys weren’t able to move anywhere. Once they were drafted by the Eagles, they were in Philadelphia until the Eagles decided to get rid of them. And I was in town all the time. I did their taxes. I did their financial planning. Whatever they needed done, I got it done for them.”
When Solano first started representing players, his billing rate was $10 an hour. He eventually just started charging them 3% of the value of the contract he negotiated and included tax work and financial planning and investments as part of his services under that 3% commission.
“If I charged them by the hour for all the financial planning and taxes and other things I did for them, it would’ve been ridiculous,” he said.
Solano was a regular at Veterans Stadium. You could find him there three days a week during the season, checking in with his clients, seeing if they needed anything. Players who weren’t his clients would be so impressed by the attention he gave his clients that they would dump their agents and switch to him.
“I sat outside [the locker room],” he said. “I became the candy man. I started with bubble gum and would give it to my guys. But [coach Dick] Vermeil’s practices were so long. [Wide receiver] Charlie Smith would come back from practice and say, ‘God, I’m so hungry. Please bring me a Snickers bar tomorrow.’ Then Carmichael would ask where his candy was. Then another guy would ask me to bring him a Milky Way.
“I started to come with bags of candy and hand them out to my guys. And then, guys I didn’t represent would want some. That’s how I got Jerome Brown as a client. Giving him candy.”
Among the Solano clients on the Eagles’ 1980 Super Bowl roster were Carmichael, Smith, tight ends John Spagnola and Keith Krepfle, defensive backs Herm Edwards and Randy Logan, offensive linemen Guy Morriss and Petey Perot, return ace Wally Henry, linebacker Reggie Wilkes, and defensive linemen Carl Hairston and Ken Clarke.
He didn’t represent Vermeil, but the two became friends. The Eagles practiced at JFK Stadium back then, and Solano would drive Vermeil to and from practice.
“He knew I represented most of his guys,” Solano said. “So he would tell me things to tell my guys. He would say, ‘You need to tell Carmichael he’s got to do this, and you need to tell Kenny Clarke he’s got to do this.’ He used the opportunity when we were driving back and forth to tell me things he wanted to get across to the players I represented.”
“Dick loved me because I took care of all of the players’ stuff, so that they could just focus on football. Like, if their parents were coming into town, I’d pick them up at the airport and arrange their hotel and their tickets for the game.”
Before the advent of free agency, training camp holdouts were commonplace in the NFL. After Norman Braman bought the Eagles from Leonard Tose in 1984, they became standard summer operating procedure for Solano and his clients.
In 1986, the Eagles had 11 veteran holdouts when training camp opened, most of them Solano clients.
“I was the king of the holdouts back then,” Solano said. “The only way you could get a team to move [on a contract] was to hold out. Even when guys weren’t looking for more money, they’d say, ‘I don’t want to go to training camp yet. I’m going to wait a week.’
“I remember when Seth Joyner held out. Buddy Ryan called me and said, ‘Listen, Jimmy. I’m going to be saying some negative things about Seth to reporters, but I’m not going to really mean any of it.’
“He said, ‘I want you to hold firm and get as much for Seth as you can from the guy in France.’ That’s when Buddy switched to me, and I became his agent.”
The guy in France was Ryan’s derogatory term for Braman, who usually spent most of training camp at a villa he owned in the south of France, leaving beleaguered general manager Harry Gamble to deal with the contract chaos caused by the owner’s “fiscal sanity” obsession.
Solano had many of the Eagles’ top players during Ryan’s five years as head coach, including Jerome Brown, linebackers Seth Joyner and defensive end Clyde Simmons, wide receiver Mike Quick, and safety Andre Waters.
In 1994, Joyner and Simmons were part of the league’s second free-agent class. Because they had been name plaintiffs in the NFL Players Association’s lawsuit against the league that forced free agency on the owners, the team wasn’t permitted to use the franchise or transition tag on either of them.
Braman offered them identical contracts worth $10 million.
“I turned them down and Norman got [ticked] off,” Solano said. “He said Seth and Clyde should fire me because they’ll never get that kind of money someplace else.”
As it turned out, they got that kind of money and more. Braman’s arch-nemesis, Ryan, whom he had fired four years earlier, had been hired by the Arizona Cardinals as their head coach and general manager. Ryan called Solano and offered Joyner and Simmons matching $14.5 million deals, and off they went to the Arizona desert. A couple of months later, Braman sold the Eagles to Jeffrey Lurie.