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Leach vs. Tech: Who holds the upper hand in contract impasse?

2/6/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mike Leach's agent has told two Texas newspapers that the Texas Tech coach has been given a Feb. 17 deadline to accept a contract extension, although several elements are onerous.

Leach turned down a five-year, $12.1 million extension in early December. The school sweetened the offer to $12.7 million over the same contract terms last month shortly after the season ended. Athletic director Gerald Myers has told the Lubbock-Avalanche Journal it is the school's "best and final offer."

The Lubbock paper and the Dallas Morning News both filed Freedom of Information Acts to obtain correspondence between Texas Tech and its board of regents and Leach's representatives. The Texas Tech coach hasn't been directly involved in the negotiations.  

The Morning News reported that Leach's agents, Gary O'Hagan and Matt Baldwin of IMG said the financial arrangements aren't the sticking point. Instead, four contact terms that Leach and his agents don't agree with are included in Texas Tech's final offer.

Among the sticking points are the following, according to the Morning News:

  • In Leach's existing contract, it guaranteed he would be paid $3.6 million of the base $9 million, about 40 percent, if he was terminated early by the university without cause. Tech's new contract proposal only guaranteed $1.5 million, about 13.5 percent, of the base $11.1 million offer. According to Baldwin, the Big 12 average is about 50 percent of the remaining compensation guaranteed.

  • Leach's current contract has a buyout offer of $500,000, a 7-to-1 ratio compared to his guaranteed money for early departure. Tech's new proposal calls for a $1.5 million buyout, the same as his guaranteed payment if he were to be terminated. According to Baldwin, the Big 12 average buyout clause for those with such elements is about $741,000.

  • Leach's existing contract doesn't penalize or restrict him from discussing another job opportunity with a third party. Tech's new offer dictates that Leach would have to be granted permission by Myers before talking to others about employment opportunities. If he didn't abide by that rule, Leach could be terminated for cause. Leach's agents have learned that several Big 12 schools require notice, but none allow the coach to be fired for cause. Myers explained his position on this in a Jan. 26 e-mail to Baldwin that read, in part, "This prior approval would not be withheld unreasonably, but we want you as his agent to stop shopping Coach Leach everywhere and him not saying anything to deny that he's looking for another job."

  • Leach's current contract allows him to control his own personal property rights, such as speaking engagements and TV and radio commercials, etc. Tech's new proposal calls for the university to "acquire coach's rights for outside athletics related income," taking control from him and allowing Tech to maximize its income.

The university originally placed a Jan. 20 deadline on the offer, after which Myers wrote that it would be withdrawn and Leach's current contract would stay in place without any changes.

Myers told the Avalanche-Journal Friday that the portion still stands if the offer isn't signed in the next 10 days.

"We've got to have a date when we either have a new contract or not,'' Myers told the A-J. "We can't just let this thing ride on and on.''

This will be a fascinating battle to watch play out. Obviously, Leach's bargaining power has increased exponentially with Texas Tech's recent success. He was the subject of a story on 60 Minutes last month where his coaching acumen was lauded.

The season ended badly for the Red Raiders after a 10-0 start that saw them soar as high as No. 2 nationally before losses to Oklahoma and Mississippi negated much of that late momentum.

The Red Raiders finished 11-2, matching the school record for victories and earned them a share of the first Big 12 South Division championship in school history.

At the same time, Leach's contract has become a tiresome subject for many Tech fans. And in today's current economic climate, could he really walk away from the kind of a contract that could set him up for life?

We'll see what happens over the next several weeks. I wouldn't even speculate to guess how things might turn out.