Where Have You Gone Ryan Leaf?

Q&A with Brian Simpson


Former Chargers employee Brian Simpson came across this site in May 2009 and sent an e-mail inquiring about Leaf the movie. I forwarded his question to the film’s director and star, Tim Carr and asked Simpson if he would like to share some of experiences as Chargers employee during the Leaf era. Simpson, who is currently coaching the Debate Team at Ferris High School in Texas, was kind enough to agree:

Brian Simpson

DZ: Could you just give us a little background on yourself and what you did for the Chargers from 1996-98?

SIMPSON: I first worked in PR in 1996, working with players, in the locker rooms, working on the sideline, press box, just doing about everything. I only worked about 12 hours/week I was still full time in college. In 1997-1998, I worked more on the Marketing side, however, I still helped the PR Dept quite a bit. Did in game promotions, worked on the sideline with the Miller Lite 12 pack and also got quotes from opposing players for the AP after games. I was attending Point Loma Nazarene University at the time and getting two degrees in Speech & Business/Marketing.

DZ: What was the mood in the organization when the Chargers first drafted Leaf?

SIMPSON: When Leaf got drafted, we truly believed he was better than Manning. I know that is crazy to think now, but he had just such raw talent and he took WSU from obscurity to the top of the Pac 10. I remember one of my friends in Marketing, after seeing Leaf's first practice, just amazed at his ability. However, I did hear some grumbling, that Beathard wasn't big on him and that Gilbride didn't think he would fit very well in his offense. However, the buzz around San Diego was so intense that they sold far more season tickets than in 1997.

DZ: When did you first interact with him?

SIMPSON: The first time I saw Ryan Leaf in the locker room, I was a little surprised. He just didn't look like he was in shape. He walked through the locker room and it just seemed like the other players didn't really respect him. He talked to a few of the African American players about getting a beer and they didn't seem interested. I think his #2 draft status and his lack of preparation coming into the season seemed to irritate some of his teammates. Which is interesting, because Harrison & Seau were some of the toughest, most dedicated players I was ever around.

DZ: When did you and the others around you first start having concerns about this guy?

SIMPSON: The game against Kansas City was definitely a reality check for Leaf. I was in San Diego, but what people told me was that he shoved our Charger cameraman, because he was standing in front of Leaf's locker. The cameraman was waiting to film Craig Whelihan, who came in relief for Leaf. He did this in front of all of the media and that is why Jay Posner wrote the article about Leaf's tantrum.

DZ: Were you around when Leaf threw and of his legendary locker room tantrums?

SIMPSON: No, I wasn't there when Leaf had his famous outburst. However, Bill Johnston was one of the people restraining him and he is the PR Director for the Chargers and was my boss for two seasons. Bill is an awesome PR guy and definitely is tops at his job. The weeks after that outburst and then when he went to WSU during his off week, seemed to definitely strain Bill. Also, Gilbride and Beathard were starting to also not see eye to eye.

By the way, Kevin Gilbride is truly one of the nice guys in the NFL. My third season interning with the Chargers I worked in the evenings and would get dinner provided for me. Gilbride would join me for dinner and we would talk away about just about everything but football. He had a daughter my age and we several good conversations. That was why it was frustrating when the media demonized him so much in 1998 and it led to him getting fired. He is such a smart x's and o's guy and I really don't think he deserved that treatment.

DZ: When was the last time you saw Leaf?

SIMPSON: I don't really remember the last time I saw him, but I remember throughout that season, the writers were constantly trying to find out inside info about his antics in QB meetings, being late, his lack of community involvement, and other dumb things that he was doing. I was a very loyal employee to the Chargers and I didn't really ever divulge information. I didn't want to be that "unnamed source." I really respected Bill Johnston and the whole PR staff and wanted to respect my position with them.

DZ: What is your reaction to Leaf’s current troubles?

SIMPSON: My reaction? Well, it is interesting, because Leaf is only 1 year older than me. I would like to think that if I got handed $11 million dollars I would work hard to earn it. However, there was tons of pressure on him to come in and produce. I mean, we went to the Super Bowl in the 94-95 season, Charger fans wanted a return to glory and he was seen as the savior.

But overall, I think that he brought a lot of this on himself. He was just a spoiled, cocky kid, who didn't seem to have respect for anyone. No one could tell him anything. He had so much success with his natural ability, he had never had to work for anything. He is now a cautionary tale for every NFL rookie. His name is synonymous with failure. I feel bad for him, but at the same time, I think that you make your bed and you have to sleep in it. There were so many people, teams, coaches, and personnel along the way that tried to point him in the right direction and before he knew it, he was out of football entirely. A very sad tale.

If you have a personal story about Ryan Leaf – an encounter, etc. – and would like to share it, please contact: leaf@davidzingler.com.

by David Zingler