Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The weird coaching news continues

Mike Leach is -- how shall I say this? -- an odd character. He also has had his fair share of run-ins with the administration at Texas Tech, one of which led to his near-firing last offseason over a contract dispute. So this news ...
Texas Tech fires Leach short of bowl game
... is not entirely surprising. But the whole story is really weird, and it all stems from an allegation of improper treatment by a Texas Tech player.

After suffering a mild concussion in practice back in October, redshirt sophomore receiver Adam James (son of ABC analyst and former SMU player Craig James) was told by a team doctor not to practice. Leach had a trainer send James "to the darkest place, to clean out the equipment and to make sure that he could not sit or lean. He was confined for three hours." The same scenario played out again two days later, with James being told that if he left the equipment room, he would be kicked off the team.

Leach and his attorney, meanwhile, aren't disputing the facts; they say that the player is correct but that he was placed in that particular location because "it was much cooler and darker," as this would presumably be a benefit to someone suffering from a concussion. Former Texas Tech receiver Eric Morris came out and supported this account, saying that the equipment room isn't an uncommon place to go because it's often used for media interviews after practice. He's right, as KCBD in Lubbock actually did some investigation (gasp!) and videotaped the controversial location:

And then there are the emails received by CBS Sports, which call into question James' motives and credibility:
Inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley was particularly critical of James in his e-mails. Riley said that James was one of three receivers sent to run stairs as discipline for unsatisfactory work.

"He [James] complained to me that we were not doing our jobs as coaches and that his effort was just fine ... It's just another example of Adam thinking that he knows more about coaching than people who have been coaching their entire lives. I have no doubt that anger from this led to where we are today ... and is his way of trying to "get back" at us coaches."
That changes the situation a bit, doesn't it? I also think it's safe to say that Leach isn't a doctor, so it seems plausible that he really was trying to find a secluded place for health reasons; sensitivity to light and noise, for example, are common problems after a concussion. But then there's this:
"He told me he would never do anything" to harm a player, Morris said. "He was trying to hold someone accountable."
Held accountable for a concussion? Held accountable for not being a hard worker (as several other players have claimed)? Nobody knows. From that statement, though, it's hard to draw the conclusion that Leach was simply trying to get him somewhere out of the heat and light because of his concussion, which is what Leach's attorney is saying. It seems more likely that this was a combination of getting the player off the practice field, which seems logical, and removing a problematic player from the sidelines because Leach was tired of his complaining. There are three sides to every story -- the two opposing sides and then the truth -- and the truth probably lies somewhere between James' allegations and Leach's justifications.

Were his actions appropriate? Probably not. Were they bad enough that he deserved to be fired? No.

But I think it's been clear for a while that there's more going on than just this investigation. When the school offered Leach a contract extension last year and he balked at signing it because of a clause that said he would be fired if he interviewed for another job, athletic director Gerald Myers said that the offer would be pulled off the table and that the school's board of regents would discuss whether to fire Leach as football coach. This made no sense at the time -- Leach has never seemed particularly interested in leaving Lubbock -- and he said as much:
"I am prepared to finish out the last two years of my contract. I am not familiar with the notion of firing someone for failing to sign an extension to a contract. That notion to me is mind-numbing. But I guess stranger things have happened. I don't know what part of this is based in rumor or fact, but I can't fathom it. Maybe there are reasons I don't know about," Leach told Schad.
Leach eventually did sign a five-year, $12.7 million deal ... and it lasted all of 10 months, ending one day before he was set to be paid an $800,000 retention bonus (what a coincidence, right?). When the threats from the school came up again this past week, it all started to make a little more sense: It seems clear that there's someone in administration (probably Gerald Myers, if you believe Tech fans) who doesn't get along with Leach. There's no other reason you'd try twice in less than a year to fire the most successful football coach you've ever had and a guy widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the country. No one of comparable quality will be knocking at the door to take over the third- or fourth-best program in the state of Texas, especially in a poor panhandle city like Lubbock. We're not talking about San Diego; everything you need to know is encapsulated in the camo jacket worn by Leach's lawyer in the video toward the top of this post.

I also think Leach got to a point where he'd had enough. Had he apologized and not filed an injunction against the school, he might still be coaching. I have a feeling that the investigation would have resulted in his firing regardless of the actual results (the school was looking for an excuse, in my opinion), but he could have helped his cause by cooperating. Instead he decided to make a power play, refusing to sign the university's letter detailing the complaint, filing the lawsuit and basically saying "fire me or let me do things my way."

Texas Tech made its choice.

As for Leach, he won't have trouble finding a job, either as an offensive coordinator for a year (the position he held at Oklahoma prior to coaching at Texas Tech) or as a head coach at a school looking for a shot in the arm and a chance to turn its program into an instant contender. And if you're not sure how good Leach actually is, just consider that he became Tech's all-time winningest coach in just 10 years (going 84-43), went to a bowl game all 10 years, won eight games or more in each of the last eight seasons and helped design the Air Raid passing game that has become the base offense at places like Oklahoma and Houston. He didn't really build Texas Tech (the program was pretty decent during the Sonny Dykes era), but he took the Raiders to the never-before-seen heights of Big 12 competitiveness.

I've never believed Leach would want a high-pressure, high-intensity head coaching job -- his flaky personality and odd statements wouldn't go over quite as well at a place like Texas or Florida -- so Texas Tech, a place with minimal talent but a desire to compete against the conference's elite, was a perfect fit. It's too bad they couldn't make it work, because at the end of the day, everybody loses (especially the fans).

But I have a feeling that in a few years, Leach will once again be doing his thing -- throwing the ball all over the place and turning some other program into a power -- while Texas Tech will once again be a Big 12 afterthought.

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