Mike Leach is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
Unconventionally smart, undoubtedly. But a coach who can prattle on about “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and neoclassical architecture trumps most of his contemporaries who struggle discussing anything more than a three-gap technique or beating a zone defense.
That’s why I’m amazed that Leach would ever do the things that he’s alleged to have done to Adam James, a backup wide receiver for Texas Tech.
Leach was suspended Monday by the Tech administration for ordering a player to stand in a shed at the Texas Tech practice facility for two hours, and then repeating the punishment two days later because he felt the player was faking an injury that happened during practice on Dec. 16.
Several sources have indicated the player is James, whose parents notified school officials about their complaints.
But I’m especially surprised Leach would get entangled in this maelstrom after he watched a close friend, Kansas coach Mark Mangino, see his program crumble at Kansas only a month before.
Leach, who worked with Mangino on Bob Stoops’ staff in Oklahoma in 1999, was Mangino’s most ardent defender before his resignation. Leach termed the situation a “witch hunt” and offered his support to the former Kansas coach.
"Heaven forbid somebody should ask a (player) to pay attention and focus in for the sake of all his teammates and coaches and everyone else," Leach said during a Nov. 23 Big 12 coaches' teleconference. "Well, there’s different ways to ask a guy to do that, and sometimes, after you’ve asked him a number of times, you raise the bar.
"The mean man told some player something he didn’t want to hear," Leach said. "Well, there’s a mean man in Lubbock that tells people stuff they don’t want to hear, too, and that’s just part of it.”
Leach’s program has been marked by internal strife since beating Texas last season and soaring as high as No. 2 nationally for a three-week period in early November.
The Red Raiders cratered after a 65-21 loss at Oklahoma cost them the undisputed South title and they dropped a 47-34 Cotton Bowl loss to Mississippi. Leach's contract extension became a contentious, messy situation that was settled only after Leach and Tech chancellor Kent Hance personally negotiated the deal during an 11th-hour meeting in February.
The problems continued once the season started. After the Red Raiders’ loss at then-No. 12 Houston in September, Leach indefinitely suspended All-Big 12 starting offensive lineman Brandon Carter for an undisclosed violation of team rules that occurred after the game.
Later that week, Leach banned his players from having Twitter pages after senior linebacker Marlon Williams ripped him on his social-networking site that he was in a team meeting room and “the head coach can’t even be on time.”
After a home upset loss to Texas A&M in October, Leach blamed his team for listening to “their fat little girlfriends” rather than concentrating on beating the Aggies. But after that loss, the Red Raiders rebounded to win three of their final four games and finished at 8-4.
Timing will be critical in how all of this plays out. Leach is due to receive an $800,000 bonus if he’s Tech’s football coach on Dec. 31.
Still, Leach wins football games and graduates players. That’s what the modern football coach is supposed to do.
No coach has done it better in Texas Tech’s history than Leach over the last 10 seasons. He took the school to a share of its first Big 12 South title and has led them to a bowl game every year he has been coach.
Can he keep his job with the embarrassment of the recent allegations?
We’ll have to see how it plays out.
But if he returns, it might be a bigger act of magic than the card tricks that Leach delights in showing to his prospects during his recruiting spiel.