Canfield attorney stays in the college game
By Tom Williams
Despite success in the courtroom, sports remains a passion of Brian Kopp.
That’s why the former high school and college quarterback has added representing football coaches to his responsibilities of being a partner in the personal injury law firm of Betras, Kopp & Harshman.
“My law partner Dave Betras has always given me the freedom to pursue what I want to do — no questions asked,” Kopp said. “He likes to see people try and spread their wings.”
Kopp’s career in sports representation began in 2007 when he worked with DeBartolo Sports & Entertainment, Inc., as a certified NFL agent/contract adviser.
“I was involved in the recruitment process and supported the field agents from the contract side of it,” said Kopp, who manages his firm’s litigation department.
In 2010, a few months before the NFL locked out its players for six months, Kopp gave up his certification to be an agent to concentrate on representing coaches.
“I relinquished it because I didn’t enjoy representing the players,” Kopp said. “The coaching side of it, I really enjoyed and will continue to do that moving forward.”
Last month, Kopp helped former Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell negotiate his contract at Purdue University. It’s a six-year deal worth $2 million per year, quite an increase from the $300,000 Hazell was paid at Kent State.
Kopp says Youngstown connections have helped this side of his career blossom.
“I do business with a lot of people in the sports world who have very strong Youngstown ties,” Kopp said. “All of them either started in Youngstown or have a tie to someone in Youngstown.”
Take Hazell, who was an assistant coach at Oberlin College 20 years. So was Kopp’s brother Neal, the former Austintown Fitch head coach who is now the athletic director and assistant principal at Coventry High.
One of Kopp’s clients is Carl Pelini, the head coach at Florida Atlantic who was the Fitch head coach who preceded Neal Kopp.
Pelini said Neal was his defensive coordinator and Brian was his quarterback coach when he was at Fitch. That led to Pelini choosing Kopp as his representative.
“Brian is a very thorough when negotiating, which is the most important thing,” said Pelini, who added that his confidence in Koop stems from his connections as well as his tie to the DeBartolo agency.
“He’s got a good feel for college athletics,” Pelini said. “And beyond the nuts and bolts of the contract, he’s a good adviser. Those two things are so important.”
Sports and Kopp have been linked almost since his birth. His father, John, was a football coach for Cardinal Mooney, Wilson and Chaney high schools. He also was on Pelini’s staff at Fitch.
A 1988 graduate of Boardman High, Brian Kopp quarterbacked the Spartans to the 1987 state title game. He went on to play football at Bethany College, then earned his law degree from Capital University.
Before beginning his legal career, Kopp did an internship with Youngstown State University athletic department. He then was a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus before joining the firm of Betras and Dann.
In 2000, Kopp was named “Trial Lawyer of the Year” by the Mahoning-Trumbull Counties Academy of Trial Lawyers.
“I always had an eye on staying in sports,” said Kopp, who credits Eddie DeBartolo Jr. for giving him a chance. “Mr. D knows I have a desire to continue to be a lawyer and to represent coaches. His concern for my family is almost overwhelming.”
In 2010, DeBartolo Sports Enterprise sold its agency and marketing division. Now, Kopp works from his Canfield office.
He said the busiest time of year in representing coaches comes in late November when the regular season ends and moves are made.
“Obviously, it’s a very busy time for coaches coming into new programs because they are either salvaging a recruiting class of early commitments or trying to restructure a recruiting class,” Kopp said.
Another client on his roster is Joe Tresey, Youngstown State University’s defensive coordinator who hails from Warren.
Of Kopp, Tresey said, “Our paths had never crossed, but we knew a lot of common people.”
One was Nick Frankos of Warren’s Buena Vista Cafe who brought them together in 2007. Another was Neal Kopp, who Tresey knew from his days at the University of Cincinnati when he recruited Ohio’s Division I schools.
Tresey said he was more than willing to give someone from the area a chance.
“In the Mahoning Valley, we all grew up with a certain amount of trust [for each other],” Tresey said. “It’s what is unique about us. I trust him dearly.”
When details of Hazell’s contract were released, an NBC Sports blogger gave Kopp a shout-out. Kopp, who has seven daughters with his wife, Lori, prefers to stay out of the spotlight.
“Sports reporting has become, I think, a blend of blogging and reporting,” said Kopp, explaining that he sees positives and negatives.
“It can be hard at times from the representation standpoint because you are not at liberty to disclose or contest certain things,” Kopp said. “As a lawyer, I have a confidentiality requirement that I honor. And because of that, sometimes things are mis-reported or improperly summarized.
“There’s such a flood of information out there [that] it’s hard to sift through what’s accurate and what’s not.”
Kopp is grateful for his Mahoning Valley roots.
“Most of the people I represent have some tie to somebody I knew from Youngstown,” Kopp said.