Strong Defense

A lot of NFL players have careers after football--many in the insurance or real estate industries. Once in a while you will hear about an NFL player who becomes a lawyer. You never hear about one becoming a general counsel of a major company. But it has happened--at least once.

After playing football at Indiana University from 1983 to 1987, 22-year-old Alex Green signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent in June 1987. He made it to the last day of training camp before the Cowboys cut him. However, a few weeks after Green's release, the players went on strike and coach Tom Landry invited the
then 194-pound, 6-foot-1-inch Green to join the team as a replacement player.

Green started as a free safety in three regular-season games, including a 13--7 loss against the Redskins on a Monday night. When the striking players returned Oct. 15, 1987, Landry kept Green on the sidelines for a few more games before releasing him.

Although some other teams expressed interest in signing him, Green decided to quit football, ending his professional career with one interception.

In 1988 he took a job as a credit analyst at American National Bank in Chicago. He then attended Northwestern law school and, after graduating in 1992, accepted a job at Ross & Hardies in Chicago (which merged with McGuire Woods in 2003). He went in-house at McDonald's (1993--2003) and Household International (2003--2004) before becoming general counsel of Chicago-based CareerBuilder--the country's largest online job board.

Q:How difficult was the Cowboys' training camp?
A:Very difficult. It was during the days when there were few restrictions, so we had a long rookie camp. We had several weeks of double sessions and then five or six weeks total of grueling camp life. It also was mentally grueling. You start training camp in a room with about five other players. Every morning someone knocks on the door and a player is cut. By the end of camp I was the only one left in the room.

Q:What was it like being invited back to play?
A:It was a lot of fun. I started and played all three games during the strike season. Our final game was on Monday night against the Redskins in Texas Stadium. I got to run out of the tunnel and play the entire game. And at that point a number of the Cowboys had crossed over the picket line, including "Too Tall" Jones, Randy White and Tony Dorsett--players that I had grown up watching play.

Q:You had one career interception, right?
A:I made it during my second game against the Jets. So I am officially in the NFL record books.

Q:What was Landry like?
A:He was just like what you saw on TV. He was kind of stoic. Every once in a while he would say something that was kind of funny that would make the room break up. He worked with the defensive backs some because he used to be a defensive back, but as a rookie I didn't spend a lot of time with him. He is one of the greatest coaches who ever lived, so I was fortunate to get to spend the little time with him that I did.

Q:How much were you paid to play?
A:I made the rookie minimum. It was about the same salary as first-year associates were making at the time.

Q:What was your jersey number?
A:29.

Q:Was it difficult to give up an NFL career?
A:Not really. I made a conscious decision that I no longer wanted to play. I think there was still an interest--mostly from the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. I probably could have played in Canada too. I finally decided that I didn't want to pursue that dream any longer.

Q:Why?
A:What you discover is that you really need to love it to play at that level. You have to give so much of your body and your time, and you are risking injury every time you take a spill. I thought I loved the game. But when you play at that level, there are guys you go up against who love it more. And they will win every time.

Q:It had to be somewhat depressing to go from playing in the NFL to working at a bank.
A:It was definitely a change of pace, but not depressing. I felt that I had played enough and seen enough NFL that I could play in that league. Now, I didn't necessarily think that I was going to be a star in the league, but I knew I could play in the NFL.

Q:You eventually went to law school and joined a Chicago firm. What was tougher--the Cowboys' training camp or being a first-year associate?
A:Physically tougher would be the training camp for the Cowboys. Mentally tougher was being a first-year.

Q:You eventually joined McDonald's as senior counsel. How did that experience help you in your current role?
A:The way they structure the legal department is that they try to keep the fun and interesting stuff in house. And I try to do the same thing at CareerBuilder. That gives your team the chance to work on a variety of interesting matters and issues.

Q:What is that you like the most about working for CareerBuilder?
A:It's that we help people find jobs. It also is a great place to work. The energy is just tremendous, and the leadership and the people that I've worked with have been great. So it's a really fun, fast-paced environment.

Q:Your CEO, Matt Ferguson, is a lawyer. Is that an advantage or disadvantage?
A:It's an advantage. He has a good grasp of the legal issues we are facing, so I don't have to spend a lot of time explaining legal concepts to him. The disadvantage is that he moves pretty fast and feels that he understands the legal issues at hand. There are times when I would like him to slow down a little.

Q:On what issues do you spend most of your time?
A:Contracts. We are a very contract-heavy company. We have a lot of partnership and joint-venture agreements. We also have a lot of IP-related issues, we are doing a lot of expansion overseas and we have a lot of privacy issues.

Q:How difficult was it to give up the monkey ads?
A:It was difficult. It was a hugely successful campaign. That was a lot of internal debate. But our marketing department felt the ads were becoming stale. They wanted to make sure to end that campaign on top.

Q:How have your football days helped you in your legal career?
A:Football gave me a good understanding of what it means to work hard. You also learn to work as a team. I've talked a lot to my group about being a team and what it means to be a team player. You can be strong as an individual, but you are much stronger as a group.

Q:Are you a Cowboys or Bears fan?
A:Bears. I have season tickets.

Q:Who do you think will be in the Super Bowl this year [this interview took place in early December]?
A:I am going with the Colts and Cowboys.

Staff Writer

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