Mike Leach was ready to retire, still trying to accept it

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mike Leach still isn’t sure if he made the right decision to retire.

The Arizona Cardinals long snapper contemplated retirement throughout the 2015 season but made up his mind to quit football during the week leading up to the NFC Championship Game. He announced his retirement last Wednesday on Twitter after 16 NFL seasons.

Yet, there have been moments during the past week where Leach questioned his decision.

“There was always this little seed of doubt and still there’s days I go, ‘I know I can still do this again,’” Leach told ESPN at the TPC Scottsdale, where he participated in a celebrity putting contest Tuesday during the lead-up to the Waste Management Phoenix Open. “I know I shouldn’t.”

But the timing was right, Leach said.

He ended the season with “a few little bumps and bruises” that wouldn’t have kept him from playing in 2016, but he wanted to stop playing before he “something did catch up with me and something that would affect me forever.”

Leach will be missed by the one player who was on the field every time Leach was.

“Leach has helped me out so much over the past two years,” punter Drew Butler said. “I mean, I never go on the field without him. He’s helped me out mentally. He’s helped me out physically. The guy’s just been a real big treat for me, just seeing how he’s worked.”

Butler kids the 39-year-old Leach that he began playing football four years after Leach’s rookie season in 2000.

Leach kept his retirement to himself until last Monday morning, when he told his wife, Julie, over the phone after he had returned to Arizona following the Cardinals' 49-15 loss and she was still in Charlotte.

“I think in our hearts we both knew,” Leach said.

The day of the NFC Championship Game was already going to be emotional for Leach because there was a possibility it could be his last game. When it became clear that Arizona’s season would end in Charlotte, along with Leach’s career, he began savoring the day even more.

Leach teared up as he walked off the field at Bank of America Stadium, a walk that he took slow. He soaked in his last moments as an NFL player and was the last player in the Cardinals’ locker room.

“It was kind of emotional on the sideline, especially toward the end when I knew this was it, there wasn’t going to be another game,” Leach said. “It was tough. I still couldn’t tell anybody but it was emotional.

“It was the right time.”

Thinking about retiring was tough for Leach, but actually saying the words has been more difficult than he imagined.

“It was tough,” he said. “Even when I knew that this was it, it was even harder to say. Even with my wife and family, it was hard to say.

“It’s just what I’ve done for the last 27 years [and] to say, ‘I’m going to hang them up completely,’ it was a tough deal. It was the right decision and we’re still happy about it, and look forward to whatever’s next.”

In June, Leach and his family will move to Virginia where he and Julie met in college at William & Mary. He and Julie will spend time working on the product they developed in 2015, Potty Pals. Other than that, however, the future is unknown for Leach.

“We’re going to take our time and find something we both want to do,” he said, “and let it happen.”