Ryan David Leaf

Ryan David Leaf (born May 15, 1976) is a former American football quarterback who played for the San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks between 1998 and 2002. As of 2007, he is the quarterback coach and golf head coach for West Texas A&M University. His brother Brady is a quarterback for the University of Oregon Ducks.

Leaf had a successful college career at Washington State University, where he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy his junior year. He was selected as the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, after which many scouts predicted that Leaf would have a successful career in the league. However, despite his athleticism, his time as a professional was short and marked by injuries, poor media relations, and failure.
College career
Leaf was born in Great Falls, Montana, and led C. M. Russell High School to the 1992 Montana state title. After high school, Leaf played college football at Washington State University, playing in 32 games for the Cougars and starting 24 of them. He averaged 330.6 yards passing per game in his junior year and threw for a then-Pac-10 conference record 33 touchdowns. He also helped the Cougars defeat the University of Washington Huskies, 41-35, for the first time since 1994. Leaf ended the school's 67-year Rose Bowl drought and helped bring the Cougars their first Pac-10 championship in school history. Despite a strong early showing by Leaf in the Rose Bowl, the Cougars were defeated 21-16 by eventual co-national champion Michigan Wolverines.

That year, Leaf was a finalist in balloting for the Heisman Trophy, given annually to the "most outstanding" player in American college football, as voted by media figures and former players. He finished third in the voting, behind winner Charles Woodson of Michigan and fellow quarterback Peyton Manning of Tennessee. He was also selected as the Pac-10 offensive player of the year, was a first-team All-American, and had the second-best national passer rating. Following the Rose Bowl, Leaf announced that he would forgo his senior year at Washington State and turn professional.
1998 draft
When they entered the 1998 draft, Manning and Leaf were widely considered to be the two best overall players in the draft. The San Diego Chargers held the third pick of the draft, but made a trade with the Arizona Cardinals to guarantee their team would get one of the two quarterbacks. To move up to the second pick in the draft, the Chargers traded two first-round picks, a second-round pick, reserve linebacker Patrick Sapp and four-time Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf.

There was some debate leading up to the draft as to whether Leaf or Manning should be selected first. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Leaf was bigger and stronger, but most analysts agreed that Manning was the more mature player and the consensus top choice. However, differences in potential between the two seemed small enough that most observers expected it would not greatly matter whether a team selected Manning or Leaf.

On draft day, Manning was selected first by the Indianapolis Colts; Leaf was selected second by the Chargers. Since that time, Manning has won a Super Bowl, set the single-season touchdown pass record, and become an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer for the Colts, while Leaf's short career was spoiled by poor play and off-field incidents. Other quarterbacks in that year's draft included current NFL quarterbacks Brian Griese and Matt Hasselbeck. Following the draft, the Chargers signed Leaf to a four-year contract worth $31.25 million, including a guaranteed $11.25 million signing bonus. It was, at the time, the largest signing bonus ever paid to a rookie. Shortly after being drafted, Leaf declared, "I'm looking forward to a 15 year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl, and a parade through downtown San Diego."
NFL career
San Diego Chargers
San Diego's high hopes for Leaf were soon dashed, as his rookie season was marked by poor performances. Before the season started, Leaf was fined for skipping a symposium that was mandatory for all newly-drafted players. Leaf did well in the preseason and won his first two games as a rookie, becoming the first quarterback to do so since John Elway in the 1983 season.

But in the third game of the season, Leaf completed one of fifteen passes for 4 yards and fumbled three times in a loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. He was benched after throwing two touchdown passes and thirteen interceptions in nine games, and replaced by quarterback Craig Whelihan. After ten games, Leaf had thrown two more interceptions, passing for a total of 1,289 yards, with a 45.3 percent completion rate and a paltry quarterback rating of 39.

Leaf had poor relationships with the media and his teammates, whom he tended to blame for his poor play. In one infamous locker room incident during Leaf's rookie year, he was caught on-camera screaming at San Diego Union Tribune reporter Jay Posner, "Don't fucking talk to me, all right! Knock it off!" and had to be physically restrained by teammate Junior Seau. Another on-camera incident involved Leaf confronting a heckling Chargers fan during a practice session. Two coaches had to restrain Leaf and escort him off the field. His relationship with then-Chargers safety Rodney Harrison was notoriously acrimonious, and Harrison described being a member of the Chargers during Leaf's rookie season as "a nightmare you can't even imagine". After hearing news of Leaf's retirement in 2002, Harrison was quoted as saying "He probably did the best thing; he took his money and ran."

Leaf missed his entire second season due to a shoulder injury uncovered by a preseason physical. He was placed on injured reserve but made headlines for getting into a heated shouting match with Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard and another coach. The incident resulted in a fine, a suspension without pay, and Leaf apologizing four weeks later. Leaf also allegedly lied about a hand injury to get out of practice so he could play golf instead.

Leaf started the first two games of the 2000 season, only to complete less than half of his pass attempts, and throw for five interceptions and one touchdown. When backup Moses Moreno went down with a strained knee ligament, the Chargers gave Leaf more playing time. However, he injured his wrist while throwing an interception in a week four game and did not play again until week eleven. Following more poor performances and injury problems, he was released by the Chargers after the season, with a record of only four wins as a starter in three years.
Subsequent career and retirement
After being released by San Diego, Leaf was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were intrigued by his physical talent and planned to develop his abilities more slowly by having him watch and learn. However, Leaf's wrist still had not healed, and he refused to have surgery despite doctors' strong recommendations. After mediocre performances in the Buccaneers' four preseason games, the club asked Leaf to accept a lower salary. He refused, and the club released him just five days before the start of the 2001 season.

Leaf attempted a comeback with the Dallas Cowboys, who signed him a few weeks after the Buccaneers released him. He failed his first physical and had trouble passing the second due to his wrist. The Cowboys released him in May 2002, after he had appeared in four games—all losses—and thrown for 494 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Leaf was signed days later to a one-year contract by the Seattle Seahawks who, like the Buccaneers, planned to let him develop slowly so he could heal from his injuries. The quarterback attended the team's spring minicamps and seemed upbeat about his new team. However, Leaf retired at the age of 26, just prior to the start of the Seahawks' 2002 training camp, initially offering no explanation, but later citing his injuries.

During his brief career in the NFL, Leaf appeared in 25 games and made 21 starts. He completed 315 of 655 passes for 3,666 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Leaf's career quarterback rating was 50.0, much lower than the 78.9 league average between 2000 and 2003.
Personal life and legacy
Leaf is considered one of the biggest disappointments in sports history. The sports network ESPN listed Leaf first on their list of the 25 Biggest Sports Flops between 1979 and 2004. MSNBC commentator Michael Ventre went so far as to call Leaf "the biggest bust in the history of professional sports." Each year, some sports writers speculate on which drafted player will be the "next Ryan Leaf", that is, the next big college superstar to flop in the pros.

In February 2001, Leaf married a Chargers cheerleader, Nicole. They separated two years later and divorced soon after. As of February 2005, Leaf was enrolled in a sports management class called "Media Relations" at Washington State. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in arts and humanities in May 2005.

Leaf joined Don Carthel's West Texas A&M staff as a quarterback's coach in 2006, and will be the school's golf coach as of 2007. Said Leaf: "I feel very honored to be a part of Coach Carthel's staff and a part of an up-and-coming successful program. [...] About a year after I retired from playing, I decided that I wanted to get back to college, where I had the greatest time of my life, and to get involved with college football." Leaf also admitted that he was unprepared for the NFL when he was drafted back in 1998