One of the most accomplished signal callers in Florida Gators history, quarterback Chris Leak led the charge in Gainesville, FL from 2003-06, a career that spanned two head coaches, three offensive coordinators and plenty of ups and downs for the team.
A four-year student-athlete, Leak started nine games as a true freshman in 2003 (racking up a 6-3 record) and made 47-straight starts to end his career with a 35-12 record as a starter, playing in all 51 games in which he was eligible. He compiled 11,213 yards, 88 touchdowns (adding 13 additional scores on the ground) and 42 interceptions while completing 61.4 percent of his passes,
With the 2006 Southeastern Conference Championship and 2007 BCS National Championship titles under his belt, Leak was also named SEC Freshman of the Year in 2003, SEC Player of the Week (four times), National Quarterback of the Year in 2006, and Most Valuable Player of the 2007 BCS Championship, all while being a four-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
He bested Danny Wuerffel, Shane Matthews and Rex Grossman to own school records for career pass attempts (1,458), completions (895) and yardage (11,213); boasts the third-best career completion percentage in school history (behind Tim Tebow and Wayne Peace); has the second-most passing touchdowns at Florida (88, tied with Tebow); and holds the Gators’ record for consecutive completions (17 vs. Wyoming in 2005).
Leak has also seen the field for the second-most plays at UF (1,636) and totaled the second-most combined yardage (11,350), falling only behind Tebow in both categories.
After bouncing around the NFL and spending most of four seasons playing in the CFL, where Leak won a pair of Grey Cups with Montreal, he spent last season playing mostly for Orlando of the AFL and expects to return to the team next year. He is also currently working as a broadcaster with SiriusXM College Sports Nation and CBS Sports Network.
Leak sat down with OGGOA for 45 minutes last month for a wide-ranging two-part interview that encompasses his recruitment, career with the Gators, thoughts on his coaches, professional career and aspirations for Florida going forward.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Speaking of Urban Meyer, I know you had a great relationship with him. It’s kind of rare for a player to have that close of a bond with two different college coaches. Usually they’re loyal to the one that recruits them or they end up not liking that guy and instead gravitating towards the one who takes over or they have more success with in the long run. What is your opinion of how things transpired with Meyer leaving Florida, going to ESPN and then jumping to Ohio State less than a year later?
CHRIS LEAK: “After you see a coach winning a national title – and obviously Meyer won two during his time at Florida – you would think that [he would stay at that school until he retires]. You have to realize also that this is a business and things happen for a reason. I know the way that Urban Meyer loves to coach and that’s with high energy and a lot of times that can definitely… Obviously in the stories that I’ve read that came out that during his time, the balance that has made him successful with his family and football obviously got off track. And when you add in the health issues…that’s another dimension that makes it even tougher to deal with the balance in life. You know what? I’m happy to see him back in coaching. College football needs Urban Meyer. It’s great to see him back coaching and doing what he loves to do. He’s in his element at Ohio State because that’s where he had his first job. The thing is, just like it was a transition year for him in the SEC, I really don’t believe it will be a transition for him there. He knows how to coach in the Big 10. He knows the teams. He knows the players. He knows how to recruit in the Big 10. I really feel like he’s going to be able to turn things around there a lot sooner than people think.”
Read the rest of OGGOA’s exclusive interview with Chris Leak…after the break!
AS: A story written about you recently suggested that you do not get enough credit from Gator fans for your accomplishments. I know in that interview you gave for the piece you said you do not feel that way because people come up to you all the time and you never sensed a lack of appreciation. I was just wondering if there ever a point in time where you actually did feel a bit underappreciated or overshadowed?
CL: “Not at all. I can see how, from an outside-in perspective, it can look to people. I’ve never – even when I was in school – I’ve never felt anything like that in my normal day or personal day. I’ve never felt underappreciated; I’ve never felt like that in my entire football career even through high school and especially in college. I always felt the support from Gator Nation. And you know what? That’s why I love to go back and talk to the players and give them any advice I can. I love being at Florida. You brought up the possibility of me transferring. I could have easily transferred and went elsewhere after Coach [Ron] Zook was fired. But I loved being a Gator. That’s the main reason I stayed. I loved going to class. I loved the campus. I really fell in love with the University of Florida. To me, that’s the best way to put it. I’m not naïve; I can see how people can see something like that from an outside perspective. But like I said, I’ve never felt that and that’s just the honest truth.”
AS: After college you worked out for Chicago and some other NFL teams but after that kind of fell through you signed with – and were very excited about – the All-American Football League, which seemed like a great opportunity but just never got off the ground. Did making a commitment there kind of put a hiccup in your career where it delayed you being able to play?
CL: “I don’t think so. The NFL does not have a development league. Right now the development league for the NFL is college football. If you don’t have the opportunity to go straight from college to play in the NFL, there’s definitely other avenues to build that bridge. One of them for me was that league; I really felt like it was going to be one of them. Obviously it folded before training camp so it unfortunately didn’t end up happening. After that league folded I spent some time with Kansas City and also with Buffalo. I definitely don’t feel like it was a hiccup. I feel like it was an opportunity for me to play close to home and in an environment that I am very comfortable with. That was definitely the plus for me in that situation.
“Tony Dungy is the one that told me himself that it’s about being at the right place at the right time. I’ve been fortunate and blessed enough to go up to the CFL and help [Montreal] win two Grey Cup championships up there. I feel like, in my professional career, not a lot of guys get to first of all even win championships. In my career, to be a part of seven or eight championships now [high school, college, pros], to have that many championships underneath your belt in your football career is very rare, and I’m just fortunate enough for the blessing.”
AS: One of your Grey Cup rings (right) is probably the biggest championship ring I’ve ever seen. It has to feel awkward wearing that.
CL: “It can get pretty heavy. And with handshakes people are giving nowadays, it can hurt them as well. Our second one we won is not as big but it’s definitely more blinged out. They took care of us. I got all my rings cased up. I always make sure they get refurbished and look nice. I pretty much wear them to special events, banquets, speaking engagements, things like that. I always bring them out for special events. Even going back to my three high school rings, sometimes I just stare and look at them and realize how fortunate I was to win that many championships in my career.”
AS: Now let’s talk about this past season. Jacksonville [AFL] signed you to come in as a starter, you played great in the first game and all of a sudden you’re on the bench and then quickly off of the team. What reasons did they give you for making a change after that first game? How can that happen when you were signed to be the starter?
CL: “You know what…that’s a good question. That’s a great question. Like I said in my interviews then… it’s just an unfortunate situation. As a professional athlete, you have to realize that there is a business side to football. And you have to understand that and go accordingly with it. I was fortunate enough to have the commissioner and the owner of the Orlando Predators come in and really take care of the situation and allow me to play at home in Orlando, which is a franchise I was trying to be a part of as well as Jacksonville. I was really happy to be able to play at home and be here with my family, my wife and my daughter. A situation that really looked like it turned ended up, the finishing product ended up being the best thing that could ever happen. The time that I got to spend with my family was priceless.
“Sometimes you go through things…I always say things happen for a reason. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. What happened with my Florida career, having to go through the coaches and three offensive coordinators, I wouldn’t have changed a thing because I grew through it. I think it really shows a lot about the commitment and the will to continue trying to have a standard of excellence for myself, for my teammates, that responsibility of being there and being a professional. That was one of the things that I really take to heart was when Urban Meyer used to tell our team in meetings that ‘Chris Leak is a professional football player.’ I really took that to heart. That really gave me a sense of that I am handling myself the right way and I’m taking what I do seriously.”
AS: Are you planning to return to Orlando this season?
CL: “Right now the Arena Football League is negotiating their collective bargaining agreement with the players union. Right now contracts are just one year. When you have one-year contracts, man, you’re a free agent after every season. I’m definitely looking forward to playing for the Orlando Predators again, playing at home obviously in a great facility like the Amway Center. Obviously the Orlando Predators have had some of the best fan support in the history of the Arena League. It’s a lot of fun to play. You get to throw a lot of touchdowns as the quarterback. It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s a great experience to be able to play there because the Arena Football League has been a part of my family. My dad used to take us to games when I was a kid. It’s really been a part of my life for a long time from when I was a kid to now. It’s exciting to be a part of that history of the league.”
AS: How are you enjoying the time you’re spending as a member of the media now that you’re on the radio with SiriusXM College Sports Nation and CBS Sports Network as a college football analyst? How did the opportunities come about?
CL: “I’ve always had an agent, and my agent really got me in contact with the right people. You have to surround yourself with the right people in order to be successful. I have been blessed to have the right people around me. At Sirius, those guys are just great; they’re awesome. That and broadcasting with CBS Sports Network has just been all great. It’s something that I feel like I have a talent for and I feel like I can give a lot of input and inside to what’s going on in college football. There’s a lot to give back for my knowledge of college football. Obviously playing college football and winning a national championship, that always makes talking about it and being part of it that much more special for me.”
AS: Do you have a relationship with new Gators head coach Will Muschamp yet? What do you think of the direction in which the program is heading?
CL: “I’ve made it a priority for me to get up there to get to meet Coach Muschamp and the coaching staff, to get around the players. I had that guidance from Rex Grossman and Alex Brown and guys like Terry Jackson, who is the [director of player relations] there now. Guys like that really looked out for me during my years at Florida. They were guys who gave a lot of good advice. I definitely want to offer that same advice to the guys who are there now as well as players to come. I definitely make it a priority to go up and get to Gainesville anytime I can. I feel like it’s important and player development is so important today. There’s something new going on every week with a player. It’s important for former players to get up there and help develop the minds and spirit of the players that are attending school now.
“Getting back to Coach Muschamp, I really think he’s doing a great job. It’s obviously going to take time when you have a transition with a new coach and new relationships have to build. Obviously Coach Muschamp is just getting started. I think the biggest thing for Gators fans and Florida alumni is patience. You have to have patience during the transition period. Obviously we’ve seen that, though those transition periods like with Urban Meyer, you can really benefit when having that patience with a coach and the players as you watch them grow together.
AS: By the time this is published Florida will likely have chosen its sophomore starting quarterback after going through what was very much a 50-50 battle throughout the spring and summer. What would your advice be to whoever wins that job on how they can best succeed right away?
CL: “You have to be a student of the game. You have to be a hard worker. You obviously have to be tough to play in the SEC. Basically you just have to go out and focus on your job. Be a great teammate because you’re only going to be as good as your supporting cast as a quarterback. Really try to help develop the guys around you – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. All of those things matter when it comes down to winning games on Saturdays. I can definitely attest to that. The key is to have patience with yourself as well within the process. It’s going to do nothing but help you grow as a quarterback. Just try to be like a sponge and soak up all the information that the coaches give you, your teammates give you so that everybody around you can contribute to your development. It’s only going to help you in your football career.”
AS: Appreciate you doing this and giving us so much time in order to cover everything. Thanks again, Chris.
CL: “All right brother. This was fun. I appreciate your time as well.”
Photo Credits: Associated Press, Bing Images, All-American Football League, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Predators