Leroy Hoard of the Cleveland Browns was just one more name to add to the list of some of their greatest runners. The franchise has been known for this since the days of Dub Jones and Marion Motley to Jim Brown.
Hoard came to the Browns after a sterling career at the University of Michigan. With quite a few college offers, the Louisiana native actually chose going to Ann Arbor. Most folks in cold environments long for the day that they can relocate to somewhere warm. Hoard came from somewhere that has two seasons: hot and hot-ter.
He wanted to live in the cold and snow. Immediately, he noticed northern white folks were a lot different from southern whites. It was something that at first he was guarded about, but realized the prejudice and hatred just weren’t front and center like it always was back home. So, he decided to call Michigan home.
As a freshman, he played sparingly like most first players do with just 22 carries. But he found himself useful on the field playing special teams and played in all 12 games. In his sophomore year, he played a dominant role with 130 carries for 752 yards, a 5.5 yards per carry average, and scored 11 touchdowns playing both fullback and running back. He was also involved in the passing game with 14 catches for 97 yards.
In his junior campaign, Hoard found his stride starting at mostly halfback as other running backs became injured. During this season, he elevated his carries to 162 with 832 yards, six scores, and a 5.1 yards per carry average. He caught 16 passes for 102 yards.
Growing up, Hoard had a kinda adult life. He had to take care of his brother and sister as his mom worked at night. He then had to find a job in order to take care of certain bills that were now his responsibility. So he was either working, doing homework, dealing with his siblings, or was at practice. He did have some help in that his uncle lived next door and his grandmother Rebecca lived across the street.
Hoard was born in a segregated hospital. Growing up, his grandmother would tell him that she has been through more than he will ever know, and if she could get past it, so could he.
After his junior year at Michigan, he applied for the NFL draft and was taken by the Browns in the second round.
Cleveland already had a full running back room, so for the first few seasons Hoard played special teams until Bill Belichick was hired as the head coach. In 1994 as the Browns drilled home an 11-5-0 record, he had 209 carries for 890 yards with five touchdowns with 45 receptions for 445 yards, and an additional four scores. That year, he was named to the Pro Bowl.
Hoard played for Cleveland from 1990 until the franchise moved to Baltimore. He played a partial season with the new Baltimore Ravens, then the Carolina Panthers for a few games before finding the Minnesota Vikings his new home after their star running back Robert Smith became injured.
Minnesota was happy with Hoard on their roster and signed him to a two-year contract worth $1.6 million. He remained through the 1999 season and played some of his best football while with the Vikings.
In Hoard’s rookie year, he had signed a three-year deal worth $107,000 per season with a $250,000 signing bonus. Today, workout bonuses are bigger.
In his 10-year NFL career, Hoard appeared in 144 games, had 3,964 total rushing yards as well as 2,430 receiving yards, and scored 51 touchdowns. He wasn’t a back who would do many fakes or jukes, he would simply plow over his opponent. Frequently.
Today, Hoard lives in South Florida and is the co-host of the “Toby and Leroy Show” on the CBS affiliate WQAM, Sportsradio 560. This Monday through Friday show is from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm (Eastern). Hoard and his co-host Brendan Tobin had previously hosted mornings on sports sister station “790 The Ticket” WAXY.
Hoard lives in Davie, Florida with his wife Melanie. The couple has raised two children: Alphonso, age 24, and daughter Rebecca who is 15 and going on 21. She is named after Hoard’s grandmother.
Hoard, age 54, enjoys playing golf (with a handicap of seven), working out, and leading a normal life. Growing up, his favorite player was Gayle Sayers of the Chicago Bears. That affection began after Hoard had watched the movie “Brian’s Song” as a kid. He was infatuated with seeing what football players were really like away from the gridiron. Hoard envisioned he could become the same running back as Sayers until his body took a different direction. Later in life, Hoard was introduced to Sayers and he said to his boyhood hero, well.....nothing. It was the only time in his existence that he can remember being speechless.
His Twitter handle is @BigMouthLeroy. And yes he has a lot to say. DawgsByNature caught up with him after a show to find out what Bill Belichick is really like, tales of good and horrible Browns seasons, and what he thinks of his old boss Art Modell.
DBN: You were Louisiana’s first “Gatorade Player of the Year”, winning it during the 1985-86 high school year. As a young kid, what goes through your mind hearing you were selected as the best in the entire state?
Hoard: It’s a crazy thing to experience something you excel at. But at an early age, you really don’t benefit from it. Louisiana is not the richest of states. I wanted to be myself in a position so that I could travel. Go somewhere besides Louisiana to see what the rest of the country looks like. Every accomplishment I had as a kid I was able to travel. With punt, pass, and kick I got to travel and went on an airplane for the first time to Tampa, and I was just eight years old. All of these things gave me the ability to get outside the State of Louisiana. As I was playing well in my junior and senior years playing football, I wanted to get to the point where I could play anywhere I wanted in the country. The awards gave me the opportunity to take the next step.
DBN: Over the years, there have been 33 football athletes that have graduated from St. Augustine High School that have played in the NFL, and another two are NFL coaches. How do you explain that?
Hoard: The size of that school has just 25 classrooms. We didn’t have school buses so to get to school you had to take city transportation. For football practice, the school owned one school bus. We would get on the bus and they would take us to a public park. Pontchartrain Park is right next to the baseball fields. From eighth to 12th grades, there was only 650 kids. So we would have 33 players on the football team while my graduating class had 110. That makes that 33 seem like a million. It was such an experience being a black All-Catholic school in the middle of the South. You learn how to deal about things a little bit differently. At St. Aug, they didn’t teach you it was the white man’s fault for everything which you hear about. They taught us we are going to help you get through it in spite of what is happening to you. We are teach you how to fight through issues. You grew up with the mentality of “sticks and stones”, but now words are killing people.
DBN: You had a lot of college offers coming out of high school. You are a Southern kid. You grew up on fried foods, boiled peanuts, crawfish, fresh tomatoes, boudin balls and cheese grits. Yet, you chose Michigan. Up north. In the cold. Where it definitely is going to snow. How did that happen?
Hoard: I went to Michigan with my friend Warde Manuel. We have known each other since we were 10. We were the first two to play for Michigan from the State of Louisiana. I always wanted to play in one of the big bowl games on New Year’s Day. I wanted to travel and really wanted to play in the Rose Bowl. I took recruiting trips to Nebraska, Michigan, and Illinois. If my last game was going to happen, I wanted it to be on January 1st where my family could see me. So, I picked Michigan. It was eye-opening just being up north in general. The way people viewed you. The way they thought about you and accepted you. It was totally a different environment. I was standoffish early on because I looked at everybody with the same standard I grew up with. I was hesitant.
DBN: At Michigan you were stuck behind Jarrod Bunch who ended up being a first-round draft pick of the New York Football Giants. You began to blossom as a sophomore and got 130 carries along with 14 receptions and was a good part of the offense. What are the main differences between playing running back and playing fullback?
Hoard: I was the only back that could play both positions. My second year Jamie Morris played halfback and was a stud. I played fullback because that was an open position. Me and Bunch played that position, but we played wishbone so it was great with three backs. The following year, I barely played the first two games. But then Bunch was hurt and I played fullback because I was the only one who knew how. I was only 210, but I had big pads on. Bunch was 240. I played it because I wanted to be on the field. There is something to be said about playing in front of 112,000 people or standing on the sideline. You in that game, you are doing something. Later that same year, our halfback got hurt and they moved me to the tailback because Bunch was now back. As a fullback, you are supposed to make the way for the halfback, but would get some carries. But a lot of times they put me at fullback to give me the ball more because I had speed.
DBN: That sophomore year of 1988 Michigan won the Big 10 Championship beating Ohio State by rushing for 165 yards with two touchdowns, then went on to defeat USC in the Rose Bowl. You went off in that game with 19 carries for 142 yards including two fourth-quarter touchdowns and were named the game’s MVP. Those two games almost equaled half of what you had gained all season. Was that eating Wheaties or something?
Hoard: It was just one of those situations where I knew I was the only option at that point with injuries to other guys. They put the energy into me that they put into everybody else and told me to go do my thing. There is something to be said when you put confidence into an athlete and he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. Especially a running back. So much for a running back is taking what they give you and then breaking it when you have the opportunity. When you don’t get the carries, when you finally get the ball you are trying to turn a three-yard gain into a 50-yard gain instead of turning that three-yard gain into a five-yard gain. One time, a guy hit me pretty good early in the game and then was trash-talking me. I told him to come see me in the fourth quarter because I grew up you will never quit. This guy hit me good in the first quarter and think I am going to quit. Growing up, that was Tuesday.
DBN: While at Michigan you were also known for being in head coach Bo Schembechler’s doghouse on numerous occasions. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Coach Schembechler made it clear that you had never done anything seriously wrong at Michigan. Did you ever figure out why you were the focus of his tirades?
Hoard: Because he could. If there was something wrong with the offense, he would yell at me. Didn’t bother me. Growing up, you yelling at me did nothing to me. So everyone else on the team would say if he is yelling at you then he can yell at all of us because that guy is good. He used to call me Leroy the Magnificent. There was a way he wanted things done, and there was a way I did things, and in the end, I was in the end zone. What I did was very physical. And it was difficult to be that physical all the time. I never got in trouble, I never did anything wrong, never got suspended. Sometimes he thought my jovial behavior was a lackadaisical one even though he knew it wasn’t true. In the Rose Bowl, we were down at the one-yard line for like five minutes because of penalties, and Coach asked me if I could get a yard. I said, “You got anybody else?” I went to Michigan to get an education, and if that was my last game I was good.
DBN: After a very good junior year at Michigan you were drafted by the Browns in the second round of the 1990 NFL draft. What was your first training camp like?
Hoard: I was late because I was a holdout. My agent told me to wait a little bit because he was wanting a better contract than what they had offered. I was so excited, I would have gone to training camp the first day. I got in about two weeks late, so some of the veterans would hit me hard and tell me welcome to the NFL. They made me sing a lot. You’re only supposed to sing one song a day, but they kept giving me the ketchup bottle to get up on the table and sing at lunch and dinner. We had 200 people in our lunchroom including media and guests. I thought I can’t keep singing. So, on my third day of camp, I stood up on the chair, grabbed the ketchup, and sang “My Ding A Ling.” And I never had to sing again.
DBN: With Cleveland you were placed in a running back room that had Eric Metcalf, Brent Fullwood, Derrick Gainer, and Barry Redden as running backs, plus Kevin Mack at fullback. Early on, did you wonder why they drafted you so high and where you were going to fit with all that talent?
Hoard: I have never looked at a team to determine where I fit in. It was my job to impress them. Like when I first arrived at Michigan, they had five running backs that were all five-star guys. When we had media day, they asked me why I signed up to play for Michigan although all these other five-star guys were there. I asked them, “How do you know they aren’t saying, damn, Leroy signed. We ain’t going to play.” You can’t sell yourself short. Ain’t nobody going to have more confidence in you than you. When I got to the NFL I thought I might have to tweak something different and as I started off they had me catch a bunch of passes. One day Coach (Bill) Belichick came up to me and said, “Can you....” and I said, “Yes.” Coach said that I didn’t even hear what he wanted. I told him if it gets me on the field, then yes. You don’t know when that moment will come when you make a big play and your coach says that he needs to give me more opportunities. They draft you as a football player, and you do what they ask you to do.
DBN: Your rookie year the Browns were horrible going 3-13-0 with two head coaches. You had played for winning programs most of your playing career. How did you suddenly take losing?
Hoard: That was terrible. It becomes hard to be interested with all the chaos going on. I lost more games in my rookie year than I lost in college and high school put together. Think about that. In six months’ time, I lost more games than in six years. Plus in my rookie year, I was hardly playing. It is one of those moments that you’re there, a lot of chaos going on with two head coaches, and I didn’t really understand the NFL yet. After that first year, Kevin (Mack), Barry (Redden), and Eric (Metcalf) helped me out. I had the right people in the room around me to point me in the right direction going into my second year.
DBN: The next season the Browns hired Bill Belichick as head coach. How was he different than Bud Carson and different from Bo Schembechler?
Hoard: A lot of similarities with Bo. Even though he was the head coach, I never had that much interaction with Bud Carson. It seemed like the whole year it was like if he was going to get fired, and we were losing, and a very hectic season. The next season with Bill, he didn’t care who you were, you will earn it. Having that was refreshing because I knew I could earn my spot on the field. It began with having more packages for me and basically I became a slot receiver because they found out I could catch a lot of passes. Then things moved in the right direction for me. I had no problem with everything Bill stood for. He was not easy. Of all the coaches I have dealt with, that dude practiced hard. We went 5-6 days straight of two-a-days. And you’re supposed to get the day off after a preseason game? We had meetings the next night at 6:00. We would have practice in shells before a preseason game. It was hard. If you made it through a Bill Belichick camp early on, you were doing something.
DBN: Under Belichick, you didn’t really get the carries for his first three seasons even though you played in every game until 1994 when Cleveland busted out with an 11-5-0 record. In fact in 1993 you had more kickoff return yards than actual rushing yards. Your thoughts?
Hoard: I injured my knee my third year. Coming back that fourth season, I had some issues with showing how I played football. One of my strengths was breaking tackles. We never tackled in practice, so how was I supposed to show what I can do? If we weren’t going full-go, I found it difficult to practice fake football.
DBN: Then when you finally became the starter in 1994, you shined with 1,335 all-purpose yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. How did you find out about your Pro Bowl nod, and what did this mean to your career?
Hoard: The best person that could have told me: Bill Belichick. He came over to me in the locker room right before a practice and said, “Hey Leroy, you made the Pro Bowl.” And that was it. That was him. The player’s relationship with Belichick is so much different than people think. I have played golf with him. He liked having individual relationships. He is one of those people who is matter-of-fact about everything. He can say the worst thing or the funniest thing, and you look at him to see if he is serious.
Belichick told me, and what was weird was I wasn’t very excited at the time about being named to the Pro Bowl. It was like, “Yeh, it’ll be cool.” Then I went and had a blast. It was an opportunity to sit among a group of players that are now your equals because you have reached this point. And now when they play against you, they know they can’t take you lightly.
DBN: While in Cleveland, what type of relationship did you have with Art Modell?
Hoard: I had a really good relationship with David, his son. I talked to him all the time. I think what happened to Art was unfair. When I first got to Cleveland, we were in the facilities of Berea Community College. When you walked into the front door, there was a drawing of a new stadium. And I was told that this would be built soon. Then Art went out and bought the land behind the school and built a state-of-the-art facility. They had high-tech everything that he spent millions on. Then he had to witness the Cleveland Cavaliers arena being built, and then Jacobs Field for the Indians. That was also around the same time Joe Robbie died, owner of the Miami Dolphins. Because of the inheritance tax, the Robbie family had to sell the team cheaply. Right after that, all of the other owners started restructuring their teams so that they became the CEO’s and their team was a corporation. That way they could just pass the ship on to your kids. At the same time that Art was waiting for his new stadium to be built, they kept putting him off. Baltimore told him they would give him $75 million and build him a new stadium. If that stadium had been built like it as promised, there is no way in Hell the Browns would have left. Municipal Stadium was brutal. I have never said a negative thing about Art Modell because I didn’t know the particulars of it, I just know what I experienced.
DBN: The Browns were predicted to go to the Super Bowl in 1995. Then the rumors about Baltimore began to surface. As a player, how do you deal with that uncertainty?
Hoard: I wasn’t upset with fans because we were stuck in the middle. You had relationships with people in the building and everyone else hates them. It was a crazy situation. And we were leading the division when all this came out. Nobody announces you are leaving to a new city when you are winning. It was leaked. It was a tough situation and after the season they fired Bill Belichick. Which is crazy, isn’t it?
DBN: What do you remember about the final game at Municipal Stadium?
Hoard: It was crazy. People were tearing seats out of their sections. Fans stayed for an hour. We just walked around the stadium. It was crazy.
DBN: You made the move to Baltimore. Tell us about that transition.
Hoard: When we first got there, the CFL already had a team there called the Stallions who had just won the league. Baltimore was a cool town. I don’t have anything negative to say about it. We played our games in their old stadium while the new one was being built. I only played a few games so I was never part of moving into the new stadium.
DBN: You later played two seasons with Minnesota and were very productive there. There is one play that really stands out: against the Denver Broncos, you converted a third-and-37. That has to be a misprint.
Hoard: We were backed up near our own end zone. They sent me in on third down. I was told to just get some yards to get us off the goal line to give our punter some room. I give them a thumbs up, run onto the field, and then the worst thing and the best thing happened. The worst thing was that people got to see me running all over the field on national TV, and the best thing was I got the first down. The analyst was Charles Johnson. After I made the first down, he said on-air, “That was a great run by Leroy Hoard, but if that had been Robert Smith that would have been six points.” They play that here at the station to annoy me.
(Editor’s note: Hoard’s draw play run was for 52-yards and remains the longest third down conversion in NFL history)
DBN: You were incredible inside the five-yard line. You reportedly once said to John Madden at a production meeting, “If you need one yard, I’ll get you three yards. If you need five yards, I’ll get you three yards.” That is that Louisiana coming out of you, isn’t it?
Hoard: They would gather us in production meetings with the networks. I would tell people, you need to look no further than my career. You can do the best version of what is asked of you. Don’t try to do more because you might end up not doing the task. So I tell them when I go onto the field, I need to be the best person for this job. And then I execute my job or you end up on the bench. In these production meetings, I would be asked if I could be starting somewhere else. And I would say, yes, I do. But I can’t go into a game and act like I should have somebody else’s role. In one of those meetings, I looked at John Madden and said, “If you need one yard, I’ll get three. And if you need five yards, I’ll get three.” I said it tongue-in-cheek. Everyone has a different role on a team sport. Go into the game and be your best.
DBN: You have a radio show now with Brendan Tobin called the “Tobin & Leroy Show” on WQAM in South Florida. How did you get into broadcasting?
Hoard: After football, I was banged up, I was miserable. I couldn’t get out of my own way. One day, my old teammate Robert Smith, he was working with ESPN, he was doing a weekly show in Miami. He asked me to come down and do a radio show with him. We are friends, so I started doing a regular radio show with him. Then the program director asked me if I wanted to do a show on Fridays and Mondays. I said sure. Then Jason Jackson, who does the radio play-by-play for the Miami Heat, he had a radio show and have me come on his show on Fridays. He is a big Browns fan. All these things just started lining up. Another program director asked me to do more, and suggested I do Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I do it like I’m not an employee of the radio station. I explained to them in detail that a lot of days I don’t feel that good. So they worked it out where I could do the show remotely from my house.
DBN: Your time slots have jumped all over the place. You are now on from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. If you and Brendan are on for four hours, you have to have something to say for four hours. How do you keep the banter and information flowing, and which months are the slowest as far as sports reporting?
Hoard: First of all I am a sports junkie, and have always been that way. When I was with the Browns, I had season tickets to the Cavs and season tickets to the Indians. I went to as many games as I possibly could because when I was a kid, I didn’t have that access. So when I got to Cleveland, that is one of the first things I did. Going to a Thursday Indians game with a start time of 1:00 in the old Municipal Stadium. I loved it. I knew Kenny Lofton and Albert Bell. Even now I will go through the channels and stop and watch a competition without caring what sport it is. July is the slowest month for sports because only baseball and racing is going on. Tobin is a fan. If his team loses a close one, the refs screwed them. So we always have alot to talk about.
DBN: Tell us something about old Municipal Stadium that most fans would not know about.
Hoard: As big as that stadium was and as many people that sat and watched games, the locker rooms were tight. There was a downstairs and an upstairs because for football you couldn’t fit everybody on one floor. All the young guys, non-starters and special teams guys were upstairs with all the starters and veterans on the bottom. After my second year, they wanted to move me downstairs. I said no, I am going to stay in the Penthouse. These were all they guys I went through the hard times with. We had a TV up there and could watch movies. Now the one thing about that was there was a window that was cracked, and it was open. So when we played in those games that were five degrees, when we would get upstairs after the game it would be 25 degrees. And we only had two showers, so you had to wait in line. At times, we would run out of hot water. Sometimes you had to make a business decision and just go home and shower. But for all the years I played football, I didn’t pull rank.
DBN: Other than money, how has the NFL changed since you played?
Hoard: More athletes are understanding their value and trying to take advantage of it, whereas back in the day you were just happy to be on the team. In my first two years, there was no free agency. So now guys just understand their value more. They say that the running back position is expendable for all but the teams that have one, I would look at it the other way. Because the three-down back is so hard to find, teams have to come up with ways to abuse that position. And that’s how it faded. Back in the day, everybody had a Nick Chubb or an Emmitt Smith. Everybody had a bruiser. The game itself has changed from that standpoint offensively because it’s now more wide open.
DBN: Are these young guys being thrown into starting positions too soon?
Hoard: When you first came into the league, no matter where you were drafted, there were levels of development and teams were patient. Now, we draft these quarterbacks, running backs, offensive tackles and wide receivers and they expect them to be like they are five years down the road. People don’t realize those type players are rare breeds. When you get your PhD to be a doctor, first you get training and don’t go right into surgery. Now, we don’t let these young men have the necessary time to develop, depending on what position they play. Patrick Mahomes was the backup on a 13-3 team behind a seasoned veteran. That team was good without Mahomes. They say first rounder you need to come in and play, and now he’s a bust. Sometimes they see a certain skill set at the Combine and are impressed, and when they get him in around other guys, that skill set doesn’t work with these other players. Now, they try to adapt their schemes to that player.
DBN: The Browns are an analytics team. You came from old school. What are your thoughts?
Hoard: There are certain things that happen during a game, and the coach is looking at a piece of paper to determine what to do. I feel as a coach you have to have a better feel for the game at that time. Yeh, it says go for it every time inside the “X” marked yard lines, but if your team hasn’t converted a fourth down play in three weeks you can’t go for it dude. I understand analytics, but here is where you lose me on analytics. You have Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb inside the five, and I will take my chances with them all four downs. If you stop me, good for you. I ain’t throwing it, I ain’t rolling out. That is a new wave of thinking right there. With old school, if you had a running back like Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, they getting four carries. Whether that was off-tackle or inside or running wide, those are your best players. You have one of the best run blocking lines in the league and two of the best backs, and you throwing passes on the goal line? This is why I really never go after Kevin Stefanski. A lot of these things are run-pass options. The mistake is not whether you decide to run or pass, the mistake is the decision that you determined during the week to go to a run or pass. It’s in the game plan. It isn’t if they get this look we have to pass or if we get that look we have to run. If you get into the game and you get those looks and you decide to run or pass and it doesn’t work, that was bad work during the week. That wasn’t bad work on gameday. As a player, I look into that more than anything.
DBN: What is your fondest moment of being a Cleveland Brown?
Hoard: Playing in the playoff game against New England in 1994. It was my first playoff game as a professional. It wasn’t even the fact that we won, I had never experienced so much energy in that stadium as I did that day. It was one of those games where you got those chills and those pregame jitters. During warm ups, there were thousands already there. It wind was bad it was blowing things sideways coming off that lake. The ball was hard to catch as he was constantly moving. You couldn’t throw into the wind. But if you watched on TV the sun was shining. I was so jealous of guys who got to experience that feeling every year. But it really is the feeling of why you play this game.