After spending six years in the NFL as a quarterback, including a stint with the Vikings in 2006 and 2007, Brooks Bollinger struggled to find his next career. Expecting to be a coach and a teacher before being drafted into the NFL, Bollinger later coached at Hill-Murray and the University of Pittsburgh. Since 2016, he has been head coach at Cretin-Derham Hall. He wants to impart a lesson learned from his high school football coach in Grand Forks, N.D., Mike Berg — to be selfless and serve those around you. That has taken him into financial planning for the past four years. Bollinger, 38, works at NorthRock Partners in Minneapolis, where half of his clients are professional athletes. In an interview earlier in the month at NorthRock, Bollinger talked about athletes’ shorter income arc and the stigma of so many pro athletes being bankrupt or under serious financial distress after retirement.
Q: What interested you in financial planning?
A: After coaching at Pitt in the 2012-2013 season, I kind of jumped out of the plane without a parachute. I knew as a family we wanted to be back here, and I needed to find my next career here. I was searching for something meaningful and purposeful. I’m in this business today because of my time in the locker room, seeing the anxiety of people around me and not really knowing what the right answer was or how to get to it.
Q: As a coach you try to keep things simple, once creating a “diet playbook.” Do you want to simplify financial planning, too?
A: One of the things I love doing with people is taking complex situations and then boiling them down to allow people to make decisions about their financial futures. When I was playing quarterback and you get this big playbook slammed on your desk and you’d have a play that’s 23 words long, your job is to make the best decision possible in a short period of time. Obviously, I rely on a lot of folks here [at NorthRock], but my job is to communicate it and simplify it to give people peace of mind.
Q: Is there a difference between working with a high-income pro athlete and a regular, high-income client?
A: What’s different about athletes is that their income arc is accelerated. The window in which they earn money is short. They don’t know what their income is going to be after that so planning becomes that much more important. The difference is that a nonathlete’s income is more consistent. There’s no impending cliff. They can keep kicking the can down the road while the money’s still coming in and they’re paying bills every month.
Q: What mistakes did you make financially as a player?
A: I wasn’t proactive. You get to tax season and think I should have done that or I should have done this. Pretty soon, six years have gone by and you’re still trying to build a foundation.
Q: You hear a lot about the failure of many pro athletes to plan for their financial futures after their playing days are over. Is that what motivates you?
A: Yes. I want to change that outcome, but I get tired of people picking out athletes and saying, ‘How can someone ever fail with that amount of money?’ You can look at people in the entertainment industry or lottery winners, too. How many of them still have money two to five years after their payout? (Seventy percent of lottery winners or others with big windfalls end up bankrupt in several years, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.)
Q: Maybe athletes aren’t so different from anyone who gets a financial windfall?
A: Athletes are a bit different. You’re 22, 23 years old and you have access to anything you want. For the first time in your life you don’t really have anyone checking in on you. You sign this deal for millions and people tell you to cut friends and siblings out of your life. That your buddies from high school are going to take advantage of you. But you think, wait a minute, that’s my family and friends.
Q: When you are in your 20s or 30s, a lot of guys are comfortable taking on riskier investments, yes?
A: That’s the rub. They may be in their 20s but in their financial life it’s more like they’re 55 getting ready to retire at 59. Pro athletes rarely find a job that produces a significant amount of income after they’re done playing. They may be getting an income, but it’s probably not matching their former salary.
Q: Do any of your clients just want index funds and term life insurance?
A: Absolutely. Some of these guys are well-educated and they read a lot. There are guys in the NHL and NFL that love to save money, love to read about it, and are systematic savers. That’s great. But there’s a lot more going on in your financial life than just those two things and we need to make sure they all fit together.