Ryan Leaf
No. 16     
Personal information
Date of birth: (1976-05-15) May 15, 1976 (age 42)
Place of birth: Great Falls, Montana, U.S.
High School: Great Falls (MT) Russell
Height: 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) Weight: 235 lb (107 kg)
Career information
College: Washington State
NFL Draft: 1998 / Round: 1 / Pick: 2
Debuted in 1998 for the San Diego Chargers
Last played in 2001 for the Dallas Cowboys
Made coaching debut in 2006 for the West Texas A&M University
Last coached in 2008 for the West Texas A&M University
Career history
 As player:
*Offseason and/or Practice Squad only
 As coach:
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics as of 2001
Pass attempts     655
Pass completions     317
Percentage     48.4
TD-INT     14-36
Passing yards     3,666
QB Rating     50.0
Stats at

Ryan David Leaf (born May 15, 1976) is a retired American football player who was a quarterback in the National Football League (NFL) for four seasons. He played for the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys between 1998 and 2001, and also spent time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks.

Leaf had a successful college career at Washington State University, where he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy after his junior year. He was selected as the second overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, but his career was short and interrupted by poor play and injuries. An episode of NFL Top 10 ranked him as the No. 1 "draft bust" in NFL history.

After his NFL career ended, Leaf completed his degree at Washington State and became an unpaid volunteer quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M University in 2006. In 2008, Leaf resigned after allegedly asking a player for pain medication, and Leaf would later encounter legal troubles involving drugs beginning in 2010 after a Texas judge sentenced him to 10 years' probation. Two years later, Leaf pled guilty to felony burglary and drug possession in Montana. After a suspended sentence with a stint in drug rehabilitation, Leaf began serving a seven-year sentence in state prison in December 2012.

College careerEdit

After leading Charles M. Russell High School to the 1992 Montana state title, he considered playing college football as a linebacker at the University of Miami. He chose to be a quarterback for the Washington State Cougars instead after head coach Mike Price, who had coached longtime Patriot starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe, promised him that he would play in the Rose Bowl. (Leaf didn't know at the time that the Cougars had last played there in 1931.)[1]

He played in 32 games for Washington State, starting 24 of them. In his junior year, he averaged 330.6 yards passing per game and threw for a then Pac-10 conference record 33 touchdowns. He also led the Cougars to a win over the Washington Huskies (41-35) for the first time in Seattle's Husky Stadium since 1985, and helped bring the Cougars their first Pac-10 championship in school history. Despite his strong early showing in the 1998 Rose Bowl, Washington State was defeated 21-16 by the eventual national champion Michigan Wolverines.[2]

Leaf was a finalist in balloting for the Heisman Trophy that year, which is given annually to the "most outstanding" player in American college football voted in by media figures and former players.[3] He finished third behind the winner, defensive back Charles Woodson of Michigan and fellow quarterback Peyton Manning of Tennessee.[1] He was named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year, was named first-team All-American by The Sporting News, and finished second in the nation in passer rating.[4][5] After the Rose Bowl, he decided to forego his senior year at Washington State and enter the 1998 NFL Draft.

NFL careerEdit

1998 DraftEdit

Peyton Manning and Leaf were widely considered the two best players available in the 1998 draft,[4] and scouts and analysts debated which should be selected first.[6][7] Many favored Leaf's stronger arm and greater potential,[8][4] while others deemed Manning the more mature player and the safer pick.[9] Most observers, however, believed that it would not greatly matter whether Manning or Leaf was drafted first[10] because either would greatly benefit his team.[7]

The Indianapolis Colts owned the first draft pick that year. Team scouts favored Leaf but Colt president Bill Polian and coaching staff preferred Manning, especially after discovering during individual workouts that he could throw harder than Leaf. Manning also impressed the team during his interview, while Leaf missed his.[9] The San Diego Chargers needed a new quarterback after having scored the fewest touchdowns in the league in the previous season. To obtain the second draft pick, the team traded its third overall pick, a future first round pick, a second round pick, and three-time Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf to the Arizona Cardinals, guaranteeing the Chargers the right to draft whichever of the two quarterbacks Indianapolis did not take first.[10]

Manning was drafted first by the Colts and Leaf second by the Chargers,[10] who signed him to a four-year contract worth $31.25 million, including a guaranteed $11.25 million signing bonus, the largest ever paid to a rookie at the time.[11] Leaf said, "I'm looking forward to a 15-year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl, and a parade through downtown San Diego."[8] The night after the draft, Leaf flew to Las Vegas, Nevada on the jet of Chargers owner Alex Spanos and partied all night; the following day Leaf yawned during his first news conference.[12]

San Diego Chargers (1998–2000)Edit

1998 seasonEdit

San Diego's high hopes for Leaf were soon dashed. To begin with, his rookie season was marred by poor behavior. Before the season even started, he skipped the final day of a symposium mandatory for all NFL draftees and was fined $10,000.[12][13] In a prank customarily played on rookies, a group of Chargers went out to dinner during training camp and charged the meal to Leaf's credit card. Rather than taking it in stride, he complained to Charger general manager Bobby Beathard and refused to pay, much to the annoyance of his teammates. Several days later, during a play in practice resulting in a Leaf interception, superstar linebacker Junior Seau knocked him down with a hard hit, earning high-fives from teammates.[14]

Leaf did well in the preseason and led the Chargers to victory in the first two regular-season games.[10] The Chargers won the season opener on September 6, 1998 16-14 over the Buffalo Bills despite mistakes from Leaf such as fumbling his first snap and throwing two interceptions; Buffalo penalties voided two would-be interceptions from Leaf. In the game, Leaf's 6-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Still that followed a 67-yard pass to Still gave San Diego a 10-0 lead. However, late in the game, San Diego fell behind 14-13 after a Leaf interception.[15] Leaf completed 16 of 31 passes for 192 yards in the opener and 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards (with 31 rushing yards in 7 carries) in the second game, a 13-7 win over the Tennessee Oilers.[16] In the third game of the season, Leaf completed only one of 15 passes for four yards, threw two interceptions and fumbled three times in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.[17] In Week 4 (September 28), coach Kevin Gilbride benched Leaf and replaced him with Craig Whelihan after Leaf threw 4 interceptions in the first half against the New York Giants.[18] The following game on October 4 against the Indianapolis Colts matched Leaf against the number-one 1998 draft pick Peyton Manning. Indianapolis won 17-12, an both quarterbacks completed 12 of 23 passes, but Leaf threw for 160 yards (23 more than Manning), and while both quarterbacks had an interception each, only Manning threw a touchdown. Manning was never sacked, while Leaf was sacked four times. Inside the final two minutes and San Diego down 14-6, Leaf's 56-yard pass to Charlie Jones set up a one-yard Natrone Means touchdown run, but Leaf's possibly tying two-point conversion pass to Webster Slaughter was incomplete.[19]

Whelihan replaced Leaf on November 8 after Leaf completed only 4 of 15 passes and became starter on a permanent basis afterwards.[20] After nine games, Leaf threw 13 interceptions to 2 touchdowns.[21] In ten games that season, Leaf threw only those two touchdown passes but fifteen interceptions, passing for 1,289 yards but completing only 45.3%, with an abysmally poor quarterback rating of 39.[22]

"Just fucking don't talk to me, all right? Knock it off!"
~Ryan Leaf to San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Jay Posner in a postgame locker room incident

Leaf related poorly to both the media and his teammates, whom he tended to blame for his poor play.[8] In a locker-room incident during Leaf's rookie year, he was caught on camera screaming "Knock it off!" at San Diego Union Tribune reporter Jay Posner, and was physically restrained by Seau. Another on-camera incident showed Leaf reacting to heckling from a fan during practice,[6] and two coaches had to restrain him and escort him off the field. He soon developed a reputation for a poor work ethic to the point of occasionally being found on the golf course while the other quarterbacks were studying film.[23] After Leaf's rookie season ended, Charger safety Rodney Harrison described it as "a nightmare you can't even imagine," adding: "If I had to go through another year like that, I'd probably quit playing."[24]

1999 seasonEdit

Leaf missed his second season due to a shoulder injury suffered 20 minutes into the Chargers' first training camp workout on July 23, 1999.[12] Leaf had surgery to fix a labral tear in his throwing shoulder.[25] He was placed on injured reserve but made headlines in early November when he got into a shouting match with GM Bobby Beathard and one of the coaches, resulting in a fine, a suspension without pay and an apology by Leaf (four weeks later).[26][27] During his suspension, he was caught on video playing flag football at a San Diego park, a violation of his contract according to Charger management.[28][29]

2000 seasonEdit

In the final game of the 2000 preseason, Leaf completed a pass to Trevor Gaylor to seal a 24-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals. After the game, he appeared on the cover of the September 4, 2000 issue of Sports Illustrated along with headline "Back from the Brink". The cover story characterized his comeback as "an ascent from pariah to possible standout pro passer".[29] He started the first two games of the 2000 season but completed less than half of his pass attempts and threw five interceptions but only one touchdown.[16] In the season opener on September 4, a 9-6 loss to the Oakland Raiders, Leaf completed 17 of 39 passes for 180 yards and threw three interceptions, including one on a 4th-and-inches play with 1:37 left and sealing the Raiders victory. After the game, Leaf's left hand was swollen, and a late hit from Regan Upshaw gave Leaf a chin gash that required nearly eight stitches.[30] The following game, a 28-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Leaf completed 12 of 24 passes for 134 yards and threw his first touchdown pass since his rookie season, a 20-yard pass to Curtis Conway; however, Leaf threw two interceptions, including one that ended the Chargers' final drive.[31]

Coach Mike Riley started Moses Moreno for the Week 3 game, but Leaf took over after Moreno went down with a shoulder injury.[32] Leaf injured his wrist when he threw an interception in the Week 4 game and next played in Week 11.[33] By October, Leaf speculated that the Chargers would release him after the season.[34] Late that month, reports suggested that Leaf lied about a hand injury to get out of practice and play golf instead.[12]

In the Week 11 game on November 12 against the Miami Dolphins, Leaf replaced Moreno mid-game. Leaf threw an interception on his fourth snap, led a touchdown drive in the Chargers' next series, and left the game with nearly a minute to go after straining a hamstring on a scramble. This game was the first since 1993 where three quarterbacks for a team - in this case Leaf, Moreno, and Jim Harbaugh - threw interceptions in one game.[35] On November 19 against the Denver Broncos, Leaf completed 13 of 27 passes and reached career single-game highs in quarterback rating (111.8), passing yards (311), and passing touchdowns (3), but the Chargers lost the game 38-37.[16] After an 0-11 start, the Chargers got their first win on November 26, 17-16 over the Kansas City Chiefs. San Diego took a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter after Leaf made two touchdown passes to Freddie Jones, but the offense struggled later in the game, and Leaf threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.[36]

Leaf would again play poorly, as he threw four interceptions on December 3 against the San Francisco 49ers and completed only 9 of 23 passes on December 10 against future Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.[16] He improved on December 17, completing 23 of 43 passes for 259 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, but San Diego lost to the Carolina Panthers 30-22.[16] In the Chargers' final drive, with nearly two minutes remaining in the game, Leaf complete a 10-yard pass to Curtis Conway that referees ruled was six inches short of the end zone. On first down, however, miscommunication between Leaf and running back Jermaine Fazande resulted in a fumble and 8-yard loss, and the next two plays followed by a penalty forced a fourth down and goal 10 yards from the end zone, and Leaf's fourth down pass was incomplete.[37] On the final game of the season on December 24, Leaf made a 71-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Graham on the first play from scrimmage, but San Diego lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-21.[38] In the game, Leaf completed 15 of 29 passes for 171 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception and fumbled his final snap.[16][38] After finishing the season 1-15, the Chargers released Leaf on February 28, 2001.[39] In three years with San Diego, Leaf had only four wins as a starter.[40] For the 2000 season, Leaf completed 50% (161 of 322) of his passes for 1,883 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions.[41]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2001)Edit

On March 2, 2001, two days after the Chargers released him, Leaf was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were intrigued by his physical talent and planned to develop him more slowly, giving him time to watch and learn.[42] Leaf's wrist had still not healed, and doctors recommended surgery. After mediocre preseason performances, he was asked to accept demotion to fourth quarterback status on the team and accept a lower salary. He refused, and was released on September 3, five days before the start of the 2001 season.[43]

Dallas Cowboys (2001)Edit

His next attempt at a comeback was with the Dallas Cowboys, who signed him a few weeks after the Buccaneers released him, but he failed his first physical and was let go on September 5.[40] After regular starter Quincy Carter suffered an injury, the Cowboys signed Leaf on October 12.[25] The Cowboys released him in May 2002 after he had appeared in only four games — all losses — throwing for 494 yards with only one touchdown but three interceptions.[44]

Retirement and legacyEdit

Days later, he got still another chance when the Seattle Seahawks signed him to a one-year contract, planning to let him develop slowly (as the Bucs had done) to allow his still-injured wrist time to heal.[45] He attended the team's spring minicamps and seemed upbeat about his new team, but then abruptly retired at the age of 26 just before the start of the Seahawks' 2002 training camp, offering no explanation at first. Seahawk coach and general manager Mike Holmgren told the media Leaf's wrist didn't bother him with either the Cowboys or the Seahawks.[8]

During his brief career in the NFL, Leaf appeared in 25 games and made 21 starts. He completed 317 of 655 (48.4%) passes for 3,666 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions and a career quarterback rating of only 50.0.[46] After hearing of Leaf's retirement, Rodney Harrison, one of his most outspoken critics on the Chargers, said, "He took the money and ran. Personally, I could never rest good at night knowing my career ended like that. Normally in this game, you get back what you put into it, and he pretty much got back what he put into it".[23]

The ESPN sports network put Leaf first on its list of 25 biggest sports flops between 1979 & 2004.[47] NBC Sports commentator Michael Ventre called him "the biggest bust in the history of professional sports".[48] Since Leaf's retirement, sportswriters and commentators have characterized subsequent drafted potential NFL quarterback flops as "the next Ryan Leaf".[49] In 2010, the NFL Network listed Leaf as the number one NFL quarterback bust of all time.[50]

Post-playing careerEdit

After retiring from professional football, Leaf returned to San Diego and became a financial consultant.[51] In 2004, Leaf resumed his education at Washington State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in humanities in May 2005.[52][53] The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that among his classes in the spring 2005 was a sports management course titled Media Relations.[54]

He then joined Don Carthel's West Texas A&M University staff as a volunteer quarterbacks coach in 2006, commenting, "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."[55] He also admitted that he was unprepared for the NFL when he was drafted back in 1998.[55] In April 2008, ESPN described Leaf as having come to terms with his past. He said at the time, "When playing football became a job, it lost its luster for me. I kind of got out of the spotlight, and life's never been this good."[56]

But in November 2008 he was put on indefinite leave, and resigned the next day, from his coaching position at West Texas A&M for allegedly asking one of his players for a pill to help him deal with pain in his wrist from past injuries.[57]

In October 2009 he went to work in Vancouver, British Columbia as business-development manager for a travel company.[58]

In December 2010, he signed a contract with Pullman, Washington-based Crimson Oak Publishing to write no fewer than three memoirs. Crimson Oak describes its mission as publishing books with themes of "hope, possibility, and determination."[59] Crimson Oak released Leaf's first book 596 Switch: The Improbable Journey From The Palouse to Pasadena in October 2011. The book focuses on the 1997 Washington State football team that made the 1998 Rose Bowl.[60]

Personal lifeEdit

In 2001 Leaf married a Charger cheerleader who was also the daughter of financial radio host Ray Lucia.[61] They separated in November 2003 and eventually divorced.[52]

His younger brother Brady was a backup quarterback and cornerback for the Pac-12 Oregon Ducks football team.[62][63]

In September 2010, the Associated Press reported that Leaf was spending much time with his family in Montana.[51]

In June 2011, he had a benign tumor from his brainstem surgically removed.[64]

Legal troublesEdit

Back in May 2009, he had been indicted on burglary and controlled-substance charges in Texas. He was in a drug-rehabilitation program in British Columbia at the time of the indictment,[65] and was arrested by customs agents at the border on his return to the U.S. On June 17, he posted a $45,000 bond in Washington state for the criminal charges in Texas.[66] In April 2010, he pled guilty in Amarillo, Texas to seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and one count of delivery of a simulated controlled substance, all felonies. State District Judge John B. Board sentenced him to ten years of probation and fined him $20,000.[67]

On March 30, 2012, he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his home town of Great Falls, Montana.[68] Four days later he was arrested again on burglary, theft, and two counts of criminal possession of dangerous drugs.[69] As part of a plea bargain on May 8, 2012, he pled guilty to one count of felony burglary and one count of criminal possession of a dangerous drug.[70]

In late April, Texas authorities issued two arrest warrants for him and set his bond at $126,000.[71]

On June 19, Leaf was sentenced to seven years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections, with two years suspended if he abided by the conditions imposed by District Judge Kenneth Neil in Montana. He was to have spent the first nine months of his sentence in a lockdown addiction treatment facility, Nexus Treatment Center in Lewiston, MT. [72] But on January 17, 2013, Leaf was remanded to Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge after being found guilty of "behavior that violated conditions of his drug treatment placement." He was also accused of threatening a program staff member. [73]

Back on December 29, 2012, he had been transferred from Nexus Treatment Center to Deer Lodge prison. Ryan violated conditions of his treatment plan by threatening a staff member, wearing clothes he was told he was not allowed to wear, and volunteering his services when he was told that he wasn't allowed to do so.[74]


Leaf, Ryan D. 2011. 596 Switch: The Improbable Journey From The Palouse to Pasadena. Crimson Oak Publishing.


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External linksEdit