On the Hot Seat: Ryan Leaf

Updated: March 6, 2007, 4:03 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

By virtue of his former career, Ryan Leaf might already be the most famous college golf coach in the nation.

The former No. 2 overall NFL draft pick of the San Diego Chargers has been in charge of the West Texas A&M quarterbacks since last spring and just recently added men's head golf coach to his duties at the Division II program.

We put Leaf, the former Washington State star, on the Hot Seat to discuss his new role at West Texas A&M, how his own game is shaping up and what current PGA Tour players he admires.

Q: How did you become the golf coach at West Texas A&M?
A: Well, the athletic director liked how I dealt with the quarterbacks and developed relationships with them and motivated them, things like that. And he wanted that aspect in the golf program. He also wanted to find a way to compensate me as a coach and also try to keep me here without leaving. It was just very flattering and an honor for him to find a way to keep me here and keep coaching in this program, mostly as a football guy.

Ryan Leaf
AP Photo/Mark LennihanLeaf said he didn't get to play much golf when he was an NFL quarterback.

I don't deal with golf swings or anything like that. I have nothing to do with golf. They have their own swing coaches and I just oversee them, get them set up with tournaments, get them in the weight room, work out with them and just try to get some team camaraderie, some team leadership, so they can go out and play the mental side of the game.

You know, golf's a lot like quarterback play. There are a lot of ups and downs on a golf course, same as a football game.

Q: So you don't give them any instruction at all?
A: They all have their own swing coaches. We have four great PGA pros that run real nice golf courses here. They deal with their swings. I have my own swing and that's the way I swing; I'm not going to mess with somebody else's. You know, I can always see if they're coming outside, things like that, but I'm not going to change anything with what they do with their swings.

Q: Did you ever see yourself coaching golf before this came about?
A: No, no idea. Like I said, our athletic director pretty much said, 'A good coach is a good coach, no matter what it is.' And it's about the same sized group of guys. I have about seven or eight quarterbacks; there's about eight or nine guys on the golf team. The way I worked and performed with those guys in the football season, I think he liked that.

Q: In a recent piece that ran on ESPN's "Outside The Lines," we saw you getting animated at football practice, trying to fire up your players. Can you do the same thing at the driving range or the practice green?
A: Well, we did try to get everybody's hands in before a tournament [recently]. You know, '1-2-3, Go Buffs!' on the driving range. Everybody kind of took a look at us, so I thought that was kind of funny. But I do that, more or less, when it's not tournament time.

Tournament time we're supposed to be locked in, focused and you really can't do that too much. But it is a team game, it is a team concept in college golf, so you are trying to work as a team and I think that has to come through. It definitely does in the morning. I've got them coming to 6 a.m. weightlifting sessions, so I do bring the football aspect of it  very disciplined, can't be late. No certain guys are set for each week, you have to qualify and the only way you are exempt from that is if you shoot even or under par in the tournament previous, so those are some pretty steep things. They've got to come out and compete and be on top of their game every week.

Q: What's your favorite golf tip?
A: I had a great, great caddie out at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, every time I went out there. He used to caddie on tour for a little bit and he was a hell of a golfer. He took me from probably a 12 to down to around a 3 or 4. It was just tempo. The same tempo every time. There's no switching what you do. Where I get in trouble is my swing is too fast. When I find that rhythm and I'm playing tons of golf, I can play some mean golf when I need to.

Q: What's your index right now?
A: Oh, I have no idea. It's probably 10 or 11.

"When I find that rhythm and I'm playing tons of golf, I can play some mean golf when I need to."
-- Ryan Leaf

Q: Best part of your game?
A: Probably my touch around the greens. I can hit it a ways with my driver, but I think quarterbacks always have some delicacy around the greens, you know, 100 yards and in, which is where you make up most of your strokes anyway.

Q: Worst part of your game?
A: Probably long par-3s, long irons.

Q: How often do you get to play?
A: I used to play a ton. When I went back to college to finish my degree in 2004 and 2005, I have a lake house up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and their golf course there is just immaculate, amazing. I moved up there, I was going to take classes in the summer, but I decided not to. And I went up to my lake house the first of April and I played every single day probably in April, May, June, July, August and the first two weeks of September. Pretty much every day. But until I played with the guys the other day, I hadn't hit my golf clubs since middle of July probably.

Q: Is that more or less than when you were a full-time quarterback?
A: Oh, I didn't play at all. I mean, me and Jim Harbaugh and Moses Moreno, when I was quarterback in San Diego, we'd go out and play on Tuesday mornings, kind of made a little quarterback tournament. During the season, I didn't play much, but in the offseason I tried to play quite a bit, especially in San Diego. They have so many great courses out there.

Q: Do the kids on the golf team all know about your former career in the NFL?
A: Oh yeah, I'm sure they do. I think because they're college kids a lot more of them don't really care about the NFL as much as they do college. They want to know about the college atmosphere and experience. They want to know more about that. That gets more publicity around here anyway.

Q: So is there ever a situation where you want to talk golf with them and they just want to talk about what it was like to play in the Rose Bowl?
A: Sometimes. You know, it's fun for them if they want to ask some questions and talk about things, but I'm interested in finding out about them, too. It goes both ways here as a coach. You want to get involved and be part of their lives and get to understand them as well as they want to get to know you and be part of your life, so it's a give and take and something I've really come to enjoy at the collegiate level.

Q: How much golf do you watch on TV? Any particular players you enjoy watching?
A: Well, of course Tiger [Woods] is unreal, unbelievable. I mean, I find myself rooting for him every time, especially at the Buick [Invitational]. Every year when I was in San Diego, I'd go out to the Buick and watch him play and go up to La Costa and watch him in the Match Play.

But, Phil [Mickelson] I love watching, too. He's a San Diego guy, I met him a few times and I know Tina, his sister, real well. I root for those two guys. I know they're pretty much Nos. 1 and 2 in the world.

I'm also a Chris DiMarco fan. Every year in the Masters, when I was playing and we'd have a big pool, I'd always put money on him. I felt like he was going to do it. I think he's a great golfer and I just can't wait for him to bust loose in a major.

But I TiVo golf tournaments all the time. I watch Sunday rounds whenever I can.

Q: Let me give you some quick-hitters. Best golf course you've ever played?
A: Pinehurst No. 2.

Q: One course you've never played, but have always wanted to?
A: I think I'd like to play Winged Foot. I haven't gotten a chance to play there.

Q: Favorite club in the bag?
A: 7-iron.

Q: Interesting. Usually people go with either driver or putter.
A: No, 7-iron. I never hit a bad shot with my 7-iron.

Q: What's your dream foursome?
A: Including me?

Q: Sure.
A: My dream foursome would be John F. Kennedy, because my parents have told me so much about him and I never got to experience any of that. David Duval, just because I've met him a couple of times and he's just a great soul and someone who can shoot 59 like that in the desert, in a final round, I want to play with him. And Michael Jordan, just because he was my hero growing up, just amazing to watch that man. So probably those three. Couple of athletes, one's a golfer. It would be pretty interesting.

Q: And finally, favorite golf movie?
A: Of course, it would have to be "Caddyshack."

Q: I had a feeling you'd say that. Give me your favorite line.
A: 'So I got that going for me, which is nice.' But "Tin Cup" is right there, too, because of when he says, 'Is that pink lady ball supposed to scare me?' And he goes, 'Not unlike I knock it by you, Boo.'

Q: Ryan Leaf, you're off the Hot Seat.
A: All right. Thanks.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.