Commentary

Leaf embraces place in history

Originally Published: April 9, 2008
By Matt Mosley | ESPN.com

Ryan Leaf has made peace with the fact his name will forever be linked with NFL infamy. Each spring, the former No. 2 overall draft choice by the San Diego Chargers knows his phone will start ringing.

But unlike some athletes with dubious pasts, Leaf seems to embrace his place in history. He acknowledges the pain of having failed as an NFL quarterback in such spectacular fashion, but refuses to let it define him.

[+] EnlargeRyan Leaf
AP Photo/Amarillo Globe-News, Henry BargasRyan Leaf's career has taken him from a No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft, to an assistant coach at Division II West Texas A&M.
Now 31, and six years removed from his last NFL team (the Seahawks), Leaf has discovered his life's passion. After taking what he describes as a "life-changing" trip to Europe in 2004, Leaf landed a job as quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M, a Division II college in Canyon, Texas, located near Amarillo. The school has 18 assistants but only five of them were considered full-time employees. Of course, that didn't make much difference to a guy who received an $11.5 million signing bonus as a rookie.

Leaf quickly made an impact on the staff, helping Dalton Bell (now with the Packers) lead the nation in passing. He didn't go out of his way to discuss his NFL background, but didn't shy away from it when players asked.

"I want to make it very clear that I can still do it better than they can," he said, laughing. "So I get competitive sometimes and let it rip."

Leaf was recently a finalist for the offensive coordinator position at Central Oklahoma, but he didn't think his work at West Texas is finished. His ultimate dream is to become a head coach at a college in his home state, Montana. He says he has no aspirations to coach at the next level.

"I definitely don't want to do anything associated with the NFL," he said.

It was the only time during a 45-minute phone conversation that he sounded anything close to bitter. That quickly changed when the conversation turned to his second-favorite sport, golf.

Last spring, Leaf was approached by the school's athletic director about adding the title of golf coach to his job description. It would require a lot of time, but it would allow Leaf to become a full-time university employee. Once a 2-handicap, he jumped at the opportunity. Now he drives his team of eight to nine golfers to events across Texas and New Mexico in a 15-passenger bus.

"It's a different experience," he said of working for a Division II college as opposed to the NFL. "I don't know if I was ever meant to have that flashy lifestyle."

Leaf's brought a football mentality to the golf team, often requiring the team to show up for 6 a.m. workouts. He doesn't hand out swing tips because most of his golfers work with local professionals, but he's read every book on Tiger Woods and his hero in the sport, Jack Nicklaus, in an effort to learn more about the proper mental approach. Leaf said brief visits with Woods and David Duval made a lasting impression on him.

"Honestly, there's a lot of carryover from football," he said. "I have about the same number of golfers as I have quarterbacks, and we try to take a similar approach."

Leaf expects the phone to start ringing as the draft approaches, but he won't run from the questions.

"I think everyone's starting to get on the bus about me being a coach, not a player," he said.

That might be wishful thinking on his part, but that's truly what he believes.

"When playing football became a job, it lost its luster for me," he said. "I kind of got out of the spotlight and life's never been this good."

Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com