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Jan. 5 2010 - 3:01 pm | 2,131 views | 1 recommendation | 9 comments

The troubled case against Mike Leach

Texas Tech University's Double T logo

The Texas Tech Double-T

This is the sensational allegation against Mike Leach, head football coach at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock: During practice, Leach ordered a team trainer to lock a player who had just suffered a concussion in a lightless electrical closet for several hours. The player, Adam James, son of former NFL player and ESPN analyst Craig James, was not allowed to sit down. A “guard” was posted outside the door. Adam James subsequently released footage of the closet interior that he took with his cell-phone camera.

Mike Leach’s account: Leach told his trainer to take Adam James to a safe, dark place, because the paramount considerations when a player suffers a concussion are light sensitivity and the risk of an additional blow to the head. The “electrical closet” was in fact a “sports medicine garage,” in which James could receive fluids and remain out of the light. The “guard” was a trainer who checked on James every fifteen minutes.

The James family filed a complaint, and with extraordinary rapidity Leach was fired “with cause,” meaning the school was not obligated to pay the remainder of his contract. Leach had secured the contract a year earlier after threatening to leave Texas Tech. In ten triumphant years there, he had gained tremendous leverage. An idiosyncratic law school graduate obsessed with pirates, Leach had lifted the school’s previously anemic football program to national prominence by using an unprecedented offensive attack that changed the way the college game was played. (Michael Lewis wrote a beautiful article about this in The New York Times Magazine.)

During the contract negotiations, Texas Tech administrators mistakenly assumed that Leach’s threat was a bluff, and were ultimately forced to accept his terms to keep him. Leach’s victory, though, engendered suffusing bitterness that only grew with time.

This past season, Leach struggled to discipline and earn the allegiance of his players. Adam James complicated the problem. He was, Leach says, a lazy kid with an outsized sense of entitlement who frequently flaunted team protocol.

Craig James, a ubiquitous presence on ESPN, apparently phoned Leach and his position coaches regularly, demanding to know why Adam’s minutes had fallen off. (The answer, Leach says, was a combination of laziness and limited ability.) James was also calling high-ranking administration officials and powerful alumni. Leach and his staff eventually stopped answering James’ calls.

Leach has filed suit against Texas Tech, which he says has chosen to “deal in lies.” Texas Tech has undertaken an accelerated search for a new coach.

Did Leach torture Adam James? The team trainer initially affirmed Leach’s story, but then criticized his conduct in an affidavit taken by Texas Tech lawyers. At least one of Leach’s assistants considered Adam James a disruptive player who undermined his coaches. Some of Leach’s current players have said that Leach behaved tyrannically this season and that his treatment of Adam James was not anomalous.

The first problem for Leach now is that his reputation has been damaged to the point of probable unhireability, and the only people with firsthand knowledge of the situation are beholden to Texas Tech. Leach’s public support will come obliquely from other head coaches and former head coaches (see Lou Holtz), former players (see Wes Welker), and fans.

Leach’s second problem is that the Jameses cannot back off their positions. They got the man who built Texas Tech football fired. They can’t equivocate now.

Finally, even if Leach clears his name through compelled legal testimony, it may not help him much professionally, because the near-grotesque allegations against him will have hung in the air of plausibility for so long.

In this miasma, it’s interesting to contrast Craig James’ ESPN interview with Mike Leach’s. One man, dispensing with politics and protocol, seems to be making a desperate, earnest attempt to convey what he knows to be true. The other, cautiously and uncomfortably evading certain questions, seems to be reciting talking points supplied by advisors.


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  1. collapse expand

    Jeff obviously spends more time reading his Thesaurus than he does researching facts. That was a total waste of three minutes.

  2. collapse expand

    So, let me see if I have this straight. Adam James shows up for team practice tardy, out of uniform, minus a Dr. confirmation of his concussion; which he received during a practice scrimmage, carrying his cell phone and is placed in a darkened storage space, which has adequate lighting to snap incriminating photos of his “cell” with the aforementioned cell phone.

  3. collapse expand

    The James family and the ultra-conservative TTU administrators have successfully scuttled Mike Leach’s coaching career. The motives are simple: jealousy, power, control, sense of entitlement, money. All involved wanted their ‘piece of the pie’ and they got it, at the expense of the players, alumni and fans. It’s too bad that egos find their way into a game that’s supposed to be entertainment and fun for all. Everybody’s a loser but the TTU administration will bumble along and will do more damage to the institution before they ‘ride off into the W. Texas sunset (especially, G. Myers).

  4. collapse expand

    I met with friends today who know people that coach in Celina, TX, home of the James family and where Adam went to HS. Found out that Craig James was a fixture there also, continually badgering coaches about Adam’s playing time, how much he received the ball, etc. Even then, Adam James felt privileged.
    He was an average player then, who somehow managed to get a scholarship to the Big 12 school. So now the competition got better, huh?
    Further, Craig James has some political aspirations in Texas and has the backing of Mr. Hance (sp), one of the main players in Leach’s contract renewal and firing.

  5. collapse expand

    Great article. As a former Tech student and an avid supporter of the Red Raiders, I really thought that Texas Tech University was past the days of the Good Ole boy network and redneck attitude. I was really shocked to hear at first that Leach was suspended. Then a couple of days later I was much more suprised that he was fired.

    What really truly suprised me and that many don’t seem to be latching onto is that Kent Hance had a phone interview with a ESPN correspondent and openly stated that a person can not expect a good thing to happen when you sue your boss, that it won’t turn out well. This can be clearly heard on http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=4783791 . This has pretty much shown the anomosity that the administration had with Leach and this was clearly an attack on Leach as a Coach and as a man.

    Thanks again for the article.

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