Building a winning game plan: Trusted relationship and planning between a sports coach and financial advisor


“I started thinking about financial planning the first time I lost my job,” says Billy Napier, Head Coach of the University of Florida football program.

“I was just 31 and the Offensive Coordinator/QB coach at Clemson. Newly married. And then Clemson hired a new head coach, and I was suddenly let go. I didn’t have a lot in the bank, and I wasn’t sure of my next step. That’s when my need for financial stability and financial planning became a reality.”

As Coach Napier’s experience underscores, a professional life in sports comes with far more uncertainty than the typical job. Careers, and therefore income, can change suddenly, triggered by factors like a new school administration or team owner, regular or post-season records, or, for junior staff, changes at the top of the coaching roster. For the athlete, add injury and age to the triggers. It’s easy to see why financial planning is especially important to anyone looking for a career in athletics.

“I tell young people all the time that it’s never too early to have a vison for what you want to achieve and to understand your options. When you have a knowledgeable advisor who you trust, you can focus on your job and be confident that your financial advisor is helping you plan for your future.”

— Billy Napier, University of Florida Football Head Coach

Coach Billy Napier (left) and Merrill Advisor Andy Garver (right).


When Coach Napier needed help, he turned to Andy Garver, Senior Financial Advisor, as well as a Sports & Entertainment Advisor, at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

A lot of the work Garver and his junior partners, Mark Melichar, Senior Financial Advisor and Hunter James, Financial Advisor, do early on with college and NFL coaching professionals focuses on planning and helping them establish a financial approach customized to their needs. That includes setting budgets, navigating the various retirement plans and programs offered by each school or pro franchise and making plans for the future education of their children, as well as providing access to Bank of America for their home buying and mortgage needs. “Believe it or not, in some ways, doing the actual investing plan is the easiest part of the process,” suggests Garver.

Often, the most intense times for professional coaches are during transitions. The move from one program to another — usually requiring a move to another city or state — typically happens fast. The coach must hit the ground running and focus on building a staff and recruiting. He or she has no time to pour over detailed benefit plan options or to shop around for mortgages as he or she gets the family relocated.

“I can leverage my knowledge, the support of my team, and the resources of Merrill and access to the banking capabilities of Bank of America, to help Coach Napier at those times that are especially stressful,” notes Garver.

Leanne Jewett headshot
"My team and I can make it easy for him to access what he needs, to understand his choices and to make informed decisions for his personal needs and future goals. That frees Billy to spend his precious time off the field with his family."

— Andrew R. Garver, Senior Financial Advisor, The Garver Group, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

For student athletes, college athletics today offers more economic opportunity than ever before. Name, image and likeness (NIL) deals have opened new economic avenues. At the same time, they have placed a whole new level of responsibility on the student athlete for developing financial literacy — and quickly.

Topics like budgeting, pre- and post-tax income, short-term savings, long-term planning and emergency funds are all part of the education that helps the student athlete capture the greatest value from the financial opportunities he or she is offered. “We need to help equip and educate our players now, like never before,” says Napier.

Napier encourages his staff to make planning and financial discipline a priority. “I tell my staff all the time that it’s critical to have a plan in this part of your life, a plan for stability going forward.” He has tapped his Merrill team to come in and meet with his staff several times a year, to answer questions or brainstorm ideas.

Early on in their relationship, Coach Napier made his priorities clear to Garver. “For me, it’s always been about doing right by the people who depend on me. Andy and I come back to these priorities over and over.” They include:

Living within our means Securing our children’s educations Creating security for my wife and me Helping us be good stewards


Like every great coach, Napier understands how the odds of success on the field increase if he’s surrounded by deeply committed individuals who excel at what they do. He’s brought that same philosophy to his personal affairs.

“I am so blessed,” says Napier. “I get to do what I love and in return, it has generated a level of financial reward that I never could have imagined. People depend on me — my wife and kids, my coaching and support staff, my players and their families — and I believe that coaching and stewardship go hand-in-hand. Andy gets that about me. I trust him not just as a financial professional but as a close member of my personal team.”

For Garver and his team, their work is never done. Plans are adjusted and adapted as situations and circumstances change, as priorities evolve, and as the coaches they work with transition through different phases. “We become so close to them,” shares Garver. “But I think all the advisors in our Sports & Entertainment Advisor Program aim to be among that core group of lifelong, trusted advisors to each one of our clients. That’s really how we judge our success.”

Merrill offers comprehensive services with an understanding of the unique positions of men and women in the sports industry:

mitigation Preserve income and assets — thoughtful planning and insurance solutions that can help protect the things you care most about — your family, business and assets
settings Personalized investment strategies that address unpredictable and/or large sporadic income streams
taxes Tax minimization strategies
cash Manage everyday cash and access liquidity — help with planning for your income and cash flow needs, including expense management and budgeting
split and zelle split Help figuring out multiple income streams, compensation for use of name, image and likeness, early in career — even while in college
home Access to Bank of America loans and mortgages — realize borrowing power to fund your needs, from buying a first home to funding unexpected opportunities (i.e., vacation home, securities-based lending, customized lending, custom mortgages)
leisure Plan for a fulfilling retirement and help with understanding league-sponsored pension plan characteristics and league-specific 401(k) benefits
giving Give back to loved ones and community — our Private Wealth Services group will work with you to determine the legacy you want to create for yourself, your family and chosen causes


To continue the conversation, reach out to your advisor.



In recognition of the unique financial circumstances that sports professionals face, Merrill recently created a first-of-its-kind professional Sports & Entertainment Accredited Wealth Management AdvisorSM (SE-AWMASM) designation, launched in partnership with the College for Financial Planning, a Kaplan Company. Not all financial advisors who hold the additional title of Sports & Entertainment Advisor in Merrill's Program hold the SE-AWMASM designation.

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