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Ryan Leaf: A Career Gone Wildly Wrong

The Texas courts are working out a deal for Ryan Leaf, convicted of abusing pain medication in Texas when he was coaching the quarterbacks at West Texas A&M way back in 2008. It’s possible this former QB, identified by the NFL network as the biggest all-time NFL quarterback bust, will be permitted to serve his sentence concomitantly with the sentence he is now serving in his home state of Montana.

Leaf’s career took off like a rocket during his junior year at Washington State University—he quit his senior year to be signed by the San Diego Chargers. However, his cocky attitude garnered him little favor among his teammates. Winning his first two games in the NFL, he completed only one of fifteen passes in his third game and then was caught on film hollering at a camera operator after the game.  The next day, he screamed at a reporter. After his fourth game he was benched. The next season, he missed the start because of a shoulder injury. He was fined and suspended shortly afterward for hollering obscenities at his team’s general manager.

His third season saw him with a wrist injury, ironically sustained while throwing an interception, which plagued him for the next couple years and eventually required surgery. He played for Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Seattle—seeing little actual time on the field—and retired just before training camp got underway in 2002. He had only four career wins and fifteen losses.

Some speculate that his unrelenting, overall poor attitude resulted in a reluctance on the part of coaches to help him with physical therapy that could have helped him come back from his injuries.  Regardless of the truth in that, he ended up on pain medication therapy that graduated into addiction.

Leaf eventually returned to Washington State, earned his degree, and worked as a financial consultant in San Diego. However, he took a job coaching Texas A&M’s quarterbacks in 2006. In 2008, he resigned when a story broke that he asked a player to give him a pain pill.

In the spring of 2009, still in Texas, Leaf was arrested for burglary and for attempting to obtain a controlled substance fraudulently. He was doctor-hopping in the hopes of getting enough hydrocodone to satisfy his addiction, and there was evidence he had burgled an apartment, although this latter charge eventually was dropped. By the time the indictment was issued, he had conveniently checked himself into a rehab center in Canada.  When he returned to Washington, he was arrested, and he posted bond for his charges in Texas. In 2010, he received ten years’ probation for the felony charges.

Early in 2012 in Montana, he was arrested twice in a four-day span for burglary, theft, and drug charges. He plea-bargained this down to one felony for burglary and one count of criminal possession of a dangerous drug.  His prison sentence of nine years included nine months of lock-down residential substance abuse treatment, and if he complied with treatment, two years of his sentence would be suspended.

However, toward the end of his treatment period, he violated the rules of the facility and then in his typical blustery fashion threatened a staff person at the facility, which won him a ticket back to the state prison.  Leaf is a shining example of the immature personality with passive-aggressive (in Leaf’s case, mostly aggressive) behaviors that often accompany addiction issues. Maybe in addition to settling on a sentence for abusing pain killers in Texas, the court will finally order some treatment for his co-occurring emotional disorders.

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