FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has signed on with Jay-Z, getting in on the ground floor of the hip-hop icon’s new Roc Nation Sports agency.
“When you talk about being in New York from a standpoint of what they can do in the city, the connections that they have, I think it’s a good move,” Smith told The New York Daily News. My mother and my family were comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with it.”
The signing seems splashy, given Jay-Z’s broad appeal throughout the entertainment industry. But if Smith craves endorsements and superstar status, he certainly downplayed it after Wednesday’s practice. He realizes there’s no better marketing scheme for him than winning football games.
“The only thing that’s important to be is the image that is perceived around this lockerroom, the guy that I am to my teammates, to my coaches and the work that I put in on the football field,” he said.
“I don’t worry about the outside world’s perception. I’m comfortable with who I am, strong in my faith. I know that this isn’t because of an image thing or trying to market myself. It’s just being comfortable with the guys who’s going to represent me.”
Smith’s image has taken a few bruises since he led WVU to a 5-0 start last season. The Mountaineers wound up 7-6, and though Smith departed the program’s all-time passing leader, he was blistered by a Pro Football Weekly scouting report for lacking.
Projected as a first-round draft pick, Smith slipped into the draft’s second day before going to the New York Jets at No. 39. He promptly fired his original agents at Select Sports, and within days, unnamed sources said Smith irked some teams by seeming aloof and texting incessantly during pre-draft interviews. (Note: Some media members alleged those interview tidbits were leaked by Smith’s former reps.)
Roc Nation, formed earlier this year through a partnership with West Coast power-player Creative Arts Agency, previously signed New York Yankees slugger Robinson Cano and WNBA rookie Skylar Diggins.
Former WVU star and NFL veteran John Thornton, serving as Smith’s advisor, recently organized meetings with five potential agencies from more than 20 who sought to represent the Jets rookie.
“It was a real professional process, nobody had the advantage,” Thornton said on “Statewide SportsLine” last Friday. “We just tried to calm things down for Geno because things got so crazy with rumors and everybody wanting to speak on it.”
Though Jay-Z was in London when Smith’s group visited Roc Nation, Thornton came away impressed. “We left that office and there was so much energy in there, with a lot of successful people working.”
Thornton said Smith absorbed unfair criticism and “went through something not a lot of players went through” during the weeks of predraft hyper-scrutiny.
“It was a weak draft in star power so (the media) sort of latched on to Geno, whether it was good or bad,” Thornton said. “Everything was all Geno. He probably doesn’t trust a lot of people. The big thing for him in choosing an agent is finding a comfort level.
“I played 10 years and I fired three agents, and it didn’t take a lot for me to fire them. I fired my first agent (because) we played the Rams in the Super Bowl in Atlanta and my agent lived in Atlanta and he never came and saw me. I was upset with that, so you know what? Two months later he got a letter.”