He was the classic journeyman professional football player, never knowing from year to year whether he’d be paid for a full season or paid at all. Such was life for Ryan Kuehl, who kept his job in the NFL for a dozen seasons because he could rocket a spiraling football back to a kicker as efficiently as anyone who ever played the game.
“I tell people I was an under-sized and under-athletic player,” Kuehl says. “Sometimes it felt like my job was on the line every single day, and it probably was. I switched to long-snapping, and it definitely extended my career, and I loved every minute of it.”
These days, nine years after retiring from the N.Y. Giants and the league, life is far more manageable. He’s Vice President of Sports Marketing and Sponsorships for Under Armour, the relatively new juggernaut in athletic equipment and apparel, and he runs the Baltimore company’s golf division.
Kuehl was singularly responsible for signing two-time major champion Jordan Spieth as one of the company’s endorsers. Spieth, he says, is “the perfect face of a brand,” who “means everything” to the future of Under Armour’s growing golf business. And Kuehl was an early passenger on the Spieth bandwagon, long before he won his first major at the 2015 Masters.
“I had heard about Jordan when he played in the Byron Nelson Classic when he was 16 and finished T16th,” Kuehl says. “So I just started tracking him. When he was 18, he was playing in Tiger’s tournament at Congressional in 2012 on a sponsor’s exemption, and I decided to walk with his group during a practice round.
“When I was with the Giants, I had become very close with a scout named Joe Collins who always talked about what to look for when you evaluate talent. I took a lot of those lessons to heart. One is to not let a player actually know you’re looking at them.”
Kuehl kept his distance that day, but kept close watch on Spieth. He loved everything he saw.
“Obviously, the talent was there and he certainly had the right pedigree,” Kuehl says. “But I also wanted to see how he treated people—the caddies, the standard bearers, even the fans. Did he look them in the eye. Did he walk confidently. I remember thinking this was a guy who was very comfortable in his own skin and in his confidence.”
Kuehl then went to Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, himself a former college football letterman at the University of Maryland, and convinced him that Spieth should be the face of the golf division.
“I told him, ‘He’s a special kid. I don’t know how good he’s going to be, but if I’m going to stake my reputation on anybody, I’ll stake it on Jordan Spieth.’ Kevin said, ‘All right, let’s do this thing.’ And, thankfully, we made the right bet.”
Spieth signed a four-year contract in January, 2013, and two years later it was replaced with a 10-year deal.
Kuehl first met Plank in 2002 when both spoke at a conference for college students who wanted to get into the sports business. Kuehl had been the Giants’s union representative for seven years and knew he would need a business career after football.
A native of Bethesda, Md., who graduated from the University of Virginia, Kuehl introduced himself to Plank at the conference. They had actually played against each other in college and Plank invited him to visit the company’s Maryland headquarters. They stayed in touch, and a year after Kuehl retired following the 2007 season, Plank hired him.
Kuehl and Spieth also have become great friends and even play the occasional round together. Kuehl carries an 8-handicap and, “Hell, yes, he gives me strokes. If I can get a shot a hole except on the par threes, I’m okay with that. I do all right.”