Leinart never learned NFL isn’t Hollywood
He lives his life as if he were an actor playing a scripted role. Always has, even from the days before the 2006 NFL draft when he spent more time doing commercials and photo shoots rather than concentrating on what the league wanted from him. Somehow, some way, no matter how bad the circumstance, Leinart could flash his winning smile and it would all turn out great.
Too bad sports doesn’t go that way.
On Saturday, Leinart’s career hit the unscripted portion when he was cut by the Arizona Cardinals when no team was interested in trading for him. Worse, few teams are interested in him. The Seattle Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll, Leinart’s coach at USC, have a need and could be interested. Likewise, the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars are kicking the tires on Leinart.
Leinart’s pretty-boy attitude has worn thin after four years in the NFL. Instead of grinding it out to learn his profession and earn his position, Leinart has lived his working life as if he were getting ready for an audition on ”Entourage.”
”He’s all-L.A.,” one teammate said sarcastically during training camp. The mocking grew as the player went on. ”Dude, he’s so down with the scene.”
The problem is that Leinart wasn’t so down with his teammates. The belief is that every time something got hard, Leinart folded. He is the anti-Kurt Warner(notes), a guy who worked his way from stock boy to NFL MVP.
Warner, who started the past two years and led the Cardinals on the most successful two-season run by the team in more than 50 years, retired after putting on a clinic on mental and physical toughness.
”Kurt was a man,” another player said. ”He’d get the crap knocked out him and never say [anything]. He was playing with half his body banged up, needing surgery, and he’d give you that Kurt, positive-attitude stuff. He was the real deal … Matt? Whatever. He gets a hangnail and he’s whining.”
Other people around the NFL saw the same thing. In 2008, when the Cardinals were about to go on their Super Bowl run, they ran into a buzz saw in New England on Dec. 21. With snow coming down and piling up fast, the Cardinals fell behind early in an eventual 47-7 loss. Warner was ineffective that day in the bad conditions, so Leinart got in early, his first serious action of the season. Instead of playing with urgency (particularly with his former college backup, Matt Cassel(notes), starting for the Patriots at the time), Leinart played as if he wanted no part of the moment. He fumbled twice, got sacked twice, intercepted once and completed only six of 14 passes.
After that game, a New England coach mocked Leinart.
”That’s a good player? That’s a first-round pick?” the coach said, rhetorically, seemingly insulted that someone would give Leinart a smidgen of respect.
Leinart never seemed to understand he was lucky to have had all those great moments at USC. Fact is, the only reason Leinart started over Cassel in college is that Carroll and his coaching staff couldn’t figure out who was better. They went with Leinart, he played well and the rest was history.
That’s how Carroll explained it when NFL coaches were researching Cassel, the Patriots’ seventh-round pick in 2005.
And Cassel never complained.
By comparison, Leinart whined and moaned when he was taken 10th overall in the 2006 draft. He even threw former USC assistant coach Norm Chow under the bus back then. Leinart told anyone who’d listen that Chow, who had become the offensive coordinator at Tennessee, had expressed to him privately that Chow wanted Leinart instead of Vince Young(notes), the Titans’ pick at No. 3. That immediately put Chow in a bad position with Young.
Instead of simply thanking the world that he went No. 10, despite his mediocre arm strength, Leinart played the role of victim. He pouted more than former clubbing partner Paris Hilton. He put up some interesting stats as a rookie in 2006. But instead of using that as a foundation to work hard, Leinart showed up in 2007 simply expecting to be the starter. This was the script, after all.
That attitude went over with new coach Ken Whisenhunt about as well as Whoopi Goldberg at a Glenn Beck rally. After five games of the 2007 season and a broken collarbone, Leinart was out as the starter.
Leinart recovered from the injury but became the Hollywood equivalent of an extra. His D-list status was cemented in the minds of many players when he spent the 2009 offseason working out with FOX NFL reporter Jay Glazer, who tried to make Leinart a tough guy by giving him MMA training.
Most players and coaches just chuckled. The notion of a sports writer making a football player tough was laughable. The fact that Leinart had to do something to draw attention was perceived as hollow, a man seeking the spotlight without actually doing something.
Perhaps that will change. Early in training camp, Whisenhunt saw promise in Leinart. He took issue with a report of mine that said Leinart was not highly thought of in the Cardinals locker room.
”That’s just not true, he’s had a great offseason,” Whisenhunt said on Aug. 1. Sadly, between that moment and now, Whisenhunt couldn’t put up with all the whining, even if it meant making Derek ”Wild Thing” Anderson the starter. When Leinart complained about not starting in the third preseason game, Whisenhunt was finished with him.
Leinart probably isn’t. Quarterbacks are too tough to find in this league, so somebody will take a chance on him. Hopefully, he’ll get a clue about what the script really takes.