Big 12: Kent Hance
- Chancellor Kent Hance gives a look behind the curtain at Texas Tech during the recent realignment fracas with Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Louisville over West Virginia? Somebody show this to Hance, please.
- Texas prepared all week with the knowledge that it would face J.W. Walsh, not Wes Lunt, Mack Brown revealed on Monday. When is Lunt coming back, though? Mike Gundy addressed it.
- Bill Snyder? He copped to having a Taco Bell habit on Monday.
- The Big 12 is smaller, but it's better. Thank the quarterback play, writes Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Is Bill Snyder better than Nick Saban? Bill Reiter of Fox Sports compares the two.
- Cool feature here from Texas Tech's site: Go inside one of the biggest plays of the week. The Red Raiders' next few games will all be tough. All five opponents are ranked.
- Bob Stoops isn't real keen on talking about the Sooners' history in Lubbock. There's been nothing spooky or spiritual about Texas Tech's wins over OU. It's just been domination.
- Can Geno Smith be this year's RG3? Mel Kiper and Todd McShay weigh in on the similarities between the two quarterbacks' stories.
- Could he be the best QB in Big 12 history?
- Joseph Randle a Heisman contender? Colleague Ivan Maisel writes about the possibility, and his Oklahoma State qualm with SEC stats.
- Kansas' focus this week? Moving the rivalry intensity from Missouri to K-State, and still being respectful to the Wildcats on social media.
- Kevin Durant's appearance on the big screen at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday was pretty humorous.
- TCU has now lost 20 players since the end of last season. Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tells you about the latest.
- Time to check in on West Virginia's defense, which is not traumatized from Saturday's game versus Baylor.
- Matt Hayes of Sporting News unveils his Big 12 power rankings.
- Johnathan Gray is making a big impact at Texas, writes Austin Laymance of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Sooners lose top corner
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops released a statement that Jamell Fleming, the team's top corner, was not enrolled this semester and was not with the team.
He'll attend to what Stoops called a personal matter.
"We’re hopeful that Jamell can work through the things he’s facing and resume his college career," Stoops said in the release.
Fleming was named an All-Big 12 performer and led the Big 12 with five interceptions.
Missing the spring is already a big deal, but if Fleming can't get back by fall, it'll be a huge blow to the Sooners' national title hopes, which should be very legitimate to kick off the season.
Throwing inexperienced corners on the field against Big 12 offenses is a good way to get beat, and the Sooners can't afford to do that and still make it through the regular season without a loss. With Fleming and fellow starting corner Demontre Hurst back, the Sooners would have a team high on potential and low on possible weaknesses.
Heading into this season, Fleming has a good chance to be one of the Big 12's best corners.
Trying to replace him, if he's not able to return to the team by fall camp, would emerge as the team's biggest and possibly most impactful question mark.
The Sooners loved true freshman Aaron Colvin very early in camp, and he's the guy most likely to slide into Fleming's vacancy as long as Fleming is out. His only start last year was against Texas, and despite the pressure of the rivalry, made seven tackles and 1.5 for loss.
But there's no doubt Colvin will see better receivers than what he faced against the Longhorns in 2010, and he'll have to make up for the lack of experience in spring and fall camps if he's required to start as the Sooners launch a campaign at the title.
If not, that campaign could be short-lived. The Sooners travel to Florida State, a possible top five opponent, on Sept. 17, their third game of the season.
It's been how long?
When's the last time Iowa State has played on an ESPN network? Who would have guessed 2006?
It seems hard to believe, but that's the case, according to the Des Moines Register.
That'll change next year when the Cyclones take on reigning Big East champ Connecticut in a Friday night game on Sept. 16.
"The exposure for our program -- both for our fans and alums across the nation -- is well received,” Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said in a statement. "The Huskies, coming off a Fiesta Bowl appearance, will be a great opponent and we’re looking forward to showcasing our program on a national TV stage."
Friday night games aren't ideal, but if it means getting a game on national TV that otherwise wouldn't be, it's a great idea. Considering the Cyclones' ESPN drought, this should be a good game to move to the nontraditional time slot.
New AD for Red Raiders
Texas Tech made it official over the weekend: Kirby Hocutt is taking his talents from South Beach to the West Texas plains.
The former Miami athletic director officially took over as the head Red Raider, a move that had long been rumored.
Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance tried to sell Hocutt on coming back to his home state, and clearly did it successfully.
"I told him, ‘Look, at Miami, my personal opinion is they’ve seen their best days. Texas Tech’s best days are in front of it,’” Hance told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "His budget won’t be that much different. We’re about the same size (budget-wise). I imagine his budget (at Miami) might be a little larger, a little smaller, but our facilities are better. We have a better market. We’re not competing with the Dolphins and the Heat and the Marlins."
- The Columbia Tribune's David Briggs looks at the possibility of Missouri starting its own TV network.
- Meanwhile, the startup costs for Texas' network mean trying to earn big money will be a big risk, report Mark Rosner and Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman.
- Should the Big Ten or Big 12 change its name? Brian Christopherson at the Lincoln Journal Star tackles the question, and the answer is probably what you thought.
- Former coach Ron Prince's ambitious scheduling has put Kansas State in an awkward position, writes Tim Bisel in the Topeka Capital-Journal. Here are Bill Snyder's thoughts on the issue from a few months earlier, also.
- Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance takes the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Matthew McGowan through the realignment process from Texas Tech's perspective.
- Bowl officials aren't complaining about what the new Big 12 has to offer, reports Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune.
- Iowa State's newest recruit is ready for a family in-state rivalry.
- The Oklahoman's Brandon Chatmon looks at how each position on the OSU defense breaks down between current players and incoming recruits.
- Nebraska receiver Niles Paul pleaded guilty to a minor in possession of alcohol charge stemming from a May incident and was ordered to pay $400.
- Turner Gill beat out Florida State for an offensive lineman from California, reports Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman says Oklahoma and Texas are attached at the hip--and it's best for both.
- Lee Barfnecht at the Omaha World-Herald surveys Nebraska's assumed financial gains after joining the Big Ten.
- Life is good for former Colorado linebacker and new Hall of Fame inductee Alfred Williams, Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post reports.
Leach is pictured in the center of the 2010 copy of the Lubbock Yellow Pages that starting being distributed this month, surrounded by a bunch of Boy Scouts.
Making the irony for Leach even more delicious, Leach's attorney Ted Liggett is pictured on the back cover. Liggett is described in the ad from a firm of "aggressive personal injury lawyers" and pictured below a picture of a bellowing image of King Kong.
Something tells me that at least in the homes of Tech chancellor Kent Hance and Tech athletic director Gerald Myers, the phone book is going coverless this year.
Hance told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that he'd like to see the former Texas Tech defensive coordinator working at the school if he doesn't choose to continue his coaching career elsewhere.
McNeill, the Red Raiders' interim coach after Mike Leach was fired, was himself let go earlier this week when new Tech coach Tommy Tuberville set his staff.
Hance said that McNeill could be in the mix for a variety of jobs at the school.
"We’d make him an assistant athletic director to help us with development in charge of certain areas,” Hance told the Avalanche-Journal. “And if he didn’t want to do that, I’d put him in my office in development. There’s not a greater ambassador.”
McNeill, 51, remains in coaching limbo after the move earlier this week by Tuberville. He is expected to have other coaching offers, perhaps at his alma mater, East Carolina.
Hance has not talked to McNeill but did leave him a voice message of his offers.
Hance said he left McNeill a voicemail early in the week, apprising him of the informal offer.
“I just wanted him to realize he’s got a lot of options with us,” Hance said. “He’s got a lot of friends. He’s a class guy. It wasn’t an easy decision, but he is going to be well taken care of either way, whether he stays or if he goes.”
McNeill responded to Hance's offer on Wednesday.
“I got a nice text message back from him, thanking me,” Hance said. “He said he’d get together with me. We’d talk.”
Despite the offer, I would be very surprised to see McNeill go into an administrative role.
He's coming off one of his finest seasons as a coordinator. And he's also got the national notoriety after piloting the Red Raiders' through the difficult situation after Leach's firing to a victory in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Look for McNeill to return somewhere as a coach next season.
His attorney had predicted to several reporters earlier this week that his client would be let go by Texas Tech officials -- probably sooner rather than later.
That firing speaks to a larger controversy than what happened over Adam James' concussion and “The Shed.”
Leach and Tech athletic director Gerald Myers always had a contentious relationship from the very beginning of his tenure there. It’s understandable when you consider the turf wars that sometimes develop in athletic departments when a headstrong former basketball coach is the athletic director and makes decisions over a similarly headstrong football coach.
It all started in 2002, when rumors about Leach’s off-field activities led to an investigation by the athletic department.
Leach was cleared, but the schism between him and his boss started at that time. At one point, Myers stopped Leach’s outgoing mail in a dispute about postage stamps.
It simmered early in Leach’s time when the Red Raiders played the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big 12 as a way to make money for the athletic department. During the 2002 season, for example, Tech played Ohio State, Mississippi and NC State in addition to the Big 12 South gauntlet.
That chapped Leach and he let Myers know about his concerns. The two always seemed to be better off if they were an arms-length away from the other.
Tech officials weren’t happy when news surfaced of Leach shopping himself for a number of major coaching openings over the past several years.
And it continued when he went through an extremely contentious negotiation with school officials before he was given a three-year extension on what was a five-year, $12.7 million contract. To get the deal done, Leach went over Myers’ head and personally negotiated with Tech chancellor Kent Hance.
Under terms of the contract, Leach was due an $800,000 bonus if he was still the Red Raiders’ coach on Thursday.
Now, it appears he won’t receive that bonus, although I’m sure the contract is headed for litigation between Leach and the school.
Even with the firing, Leach will be considered one of Tech’s top football coaches ever, leaving the school with a program he helped boost into contention in the extremely difficult Big 12 South Division. It’s not a stretch to say that he was one of the seminal figures in Big 12 history, helping transform the way offense was played from the ground-based philosophies of the old Southwest and Big Eight conferences into today’s high-powered aerial attacks that have become the national rage recently.
Leach built a program out of castoffs like Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, Graham Harrell and Brandon Williams and turned them into a team that could consistently compete with teams like Texas and Oklahoma. The Red Raiders were ranked No. 2 in the nation for a three-week period during last year's 11-2 season, which was a national breakthrough for the school.
Leach was Texas Tech football. He was as much a part of Lubbock as dust storms, Buddy Holly’s statue and the blueberry muffins at the legendary Fifty-Yard Line Restaurant.
And no matter who follows Leach, he will face a mammoth chore of replacing a legend who directed the Red Raiders to 10 consecutive bowl appearances and more bowl victories in his tenure than the rest of the school’s 85-season football history combined.
The football program upstaged Myers’ basketball program and his hand-picked coach of choice, Bob Knight. Even with the legendary career leader in victories along the sidelines, the Red Raiders’ basketball team had trouble filling the United Spirit Arena or selling the personal-seat licenses that were intended to help build the facility.
But that wasn’t the case for the football program, which became a national phenomenon under their quirky coach. Tech’s success led to him being a cover story in the New York Times magazine and the subject of a fawning piece on CBS-TV’s "60 Minutes" late last season.
Leach gained notoriety for his fascination with pirates, mobsters and Indian chiefs. His stint as a weatherman on a Lubbock television station -- memorable because of his explanation of the local occurrence of “raining mud” -- became a YouTube staple with hundreds of thousands of hits.
He could coach a little, too. During what was expected to be a rebuilding job this season, Leach juggled three starting quarterbacks en route to an 8-4 mark and a berth in Saturday night’s Valero Alamo Bowl.
He’ll be gone from the sidelines in that game. The Red Raiders likely have the perfect solution to settle the upheaval with unassuming defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill. He’s familiar with the players because of his recruiting and will give them the best opportunity to keep their program together against Michigan State on Saturday night.
But after that, it will be a different story.
Myers needs to mobilize quickly to salvage what had been the best recruiting season for Tech in recent years. Whether those recruits will be willing to stay firm on their commitments to the far-flung West Texas locale that is still one of the toughest recruiting destinations in the Big 12 will be interesting to see.
Leach carved an identity that made Tech one of the top 25 or 30 programs in the country over the past 10 years.
Now, we’ll see if his replacement can keep it there.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is a busy man these days. The Red Raiders are in the middle of spring practice. Trying to replace record-breaking players like Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell has made for an eventful few weeks for the Texas Tech coach.
Some might be surprised that Leach is even in Lubbock after his contract impasse with the school that was settled at the last minute. But direct negotiations between Leach and Tech chancellor Kent Hance resulted in a new deal that appears to have Tech's coach entrenched in the High Plains for the foreseeable future.
|Douglas Jones/US Presswire|
|The idea of rebuilding is nothing new to Mike Leach.|
We caught up with Leach earlier this week while he was attending his son's baseball game. Between pings of aluminum bats and cheers from surrounding parents, Leach detailed some thoughts about his team's work, quarterback Taylor Potts' development, his increased notoriety after an appearance on "60 Minutes" earlier this year and his take on the Somali pirate controversy.
How has practice looked so far for your team this spring?
Mike Leach: I think it's been good. We've got a bunch of guys who are working hard. We've had some good tempo and strong work so far. I've been pleased.
What have been your initial perceptions of Taylor Potts at quarterback?
ML: He's been pretty steady. He had one bad day and one bad period. The rest have been pretty good. He's bigger than the quarterbacks we've had and has a stronger arm than most. And like a lot of them in the past, he had several years to learn and play behind some good people.
Taylor has watched what they have done. And I think the fact that he's been behind Graham, but still didn't waste any reps as a backup. A lot of times as you are sitting and waiting their chance, guys will waste their opportunities to learn. Taylor didn't do that.
With the loss of key players like Harrell, Crabtree and Shannon Woods, is your offense going to change much this season?
ML: I don't think it will change a bunch. But what ends up is that different players and receivers will get more of a chance to emerge and play. Crabtree got so many catches, but now different players and receivers will do well. We'll have a different group of backs who do different things. But I don't think it will change that much.
How much are the Red Raiders going to miss Michael Crabtree?
ML: We've had a couple of guys in Jacoby Franks and Alex Torres who have really played so far. Last season, the second-line guy behind Crabtree was Franks and he's a year better now. I think Torres is a little better this year than last year. It means we are a little deeper than we were. Obviously, neither one is at the Crabtree level yet, but the second-level is stronger than it was last year.
After starting last season 10-0, your team finished the season with a couple of disappointing losses, including the Cotton Bowl defeat to Mississippi. Did that loss stay with you guys a little longer because of the success earlier in the season?
ML: Our guys don't think of things that way. We don't have a team that slacks in a bowl game or lingered after we lost it. We felt like we had a chance to play a little bit better, but certainly by working incredibly hard, we've got a chance to get another cohesive unit again together.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Mike from Livonia, Mich., writes: Hey Tim, I'm a diehard follower of the blog here. I was looking at Notre Dame's 2009 schedule and notice that four of the six major BCS conferences are represented - but not the Big 12. That led me to remember any past games the Irish had against Big 12 foes. Wasn't the last one when Nebraska and Eric Crouch played them?
My question is how come Big 12 teams don't play Notre Dame more often. They are playing Washington State in San Antonio this season and have plans to play Arizona State in the Cowboys' new stadium. Why not Nebraska or Texas A&M or Colorado, who they have had a rich bowl history with?
Tim Griffin: Interesting question Mike and there's a reason why Notre Dame has rarely hooked up with Big 12 teams. And also why the Irish are opting to bring some unconventional opponents for their upcoming "home" games at Texas stadiums.
The Big 12's two major television partners, ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports Network, have exclusivity for all games played in their seven-state geographical footprint.
That has kept any Big 12 team from playing neutral-site games during the Irish's recent run of "barnstorming" games where they have become the designated home team for games played outside of South Bend.
Those games, like all of Notre Dame's games, are the exclusive broadcasting property of NBC. And because of the Big 12's deals, it keeps a Big 12 team from playing a game inside its footprint that isn't carried by a Big 12 television partner.
For example, Baylor and Notre Dame originally wanted to play at the Cowboys' stadium in 2012. But Baylor couldn't be involved because of the conference's exclusivity, leading Arizona State to replace them in the game in Arlington in 2013. Notre Dame instead took its 2012 "home" game with Baylor in New Orleans.
So the only way imaginable for Big 12 teams to play Notre Dame would be in a home-and-home series. And the Irish do have a home-and-home series against Oklahoma, with games in Norman (broadcast on the Big 12 television partners) in 2012 and in South Bend (broadcast by NBC) in 2013.
The last time that Notre Dame played a Big 12 opponent was in 2001, when Nebraska beat the Irish, 27-10, in Lincoln, Neb.
Michael from Huntsville, Ala., writes: Here's something from your recent article about Mike Leach in regards to their victory over Texas last season. You described it as what "might have been the biggest play in Big 12 history." Way to sensationalize the story. Did you exaggerate much?
Tim Griffin: Actually, I don't think that's overstating the importance of that game. It kept Texas from playing for the national championship -- the Longhorns' only loss of the season settled on a play with one second left.
The only other plays I would rank with that one was the tipped ball by Nebraska's Matt Davison in the 1997 Missouri game and Vince Young's game-winning TD run against USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl. But both of those plays had plays after them, lessening the sense of finality in setting those plays as the ultimate winning play. So I'll stick with the Crabtree catch, which I still think is the biggest, most exciting play in Big 12 history.
As Tech chancellor Kent Hance said yesterday, he's already seen that play more than any he can remember in highlights, rivaling only Doug Flutie's "Hail Mary" pass in 1984. I bet the Crabtree catch will have that kind of staying power, too.
Michael Byrd writes: In your Baylor outlook, did you know that Baylor has Phil Taylor to play defensive tackle next season? He was one of the top recruits two years ago for Penn State before he transferred to Penn State. The Baylor coaches have been quoted in the Waco newspaper as saying that Taylor was a monster during his redshirt season in practice. Heard of him?
Tim Griffin: Yes I have and I think he'll be a big contributor. But I'll wait until he plays in a college game before I rush too quickly to praise him. It will be interesting to see if he lives up to the advance billing that has preceded him.
Nathan from Kansas City, Mo.: Tim, you might want to do your homework a little better. Missouri beat Kansas State in Manhattan in 2007 by a score of 49-32, so they haven't won in Manhattan since 2007 and not 1989 as you wrote.
Tim Griffin: To the Missouri fans, I apologize for the gaffe. I need to watch Truman on You Tube as punishment for absolution.
Carroll from Ames, Iowa, writes: What do you think of new Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads' coordinator hires - Rice's Tom Herman and South Florida's Wally Burnham?
Tim Griffin: I'm really impressed. Herman did a fine job at Rice, directing a controlling passing attack that included players like Chase Clement, Jarett Dillard and James Casey and ranked in the top-10 nationally in passing, scoring and total yards last season. I think his arrival will help Austen Arnaud's development greatly. And the veteran Burnham is the addition for Rhoads' defense.
Rhoads was a little deliberate on his choices, but now I can see why. He made two very good hires for those positions.
Little Stevie from Lenexa, Kan., writes: Tim, how in God's green earth can you have Kansas State ranked over Missouri and Kansas. Remember, Kansas State fired their coach last season.
Tim Griffin: Stevie, maybe I'm buying too much into Bill Snyder's arrival, but I think he should be good for a couple of extra wins. And considering their schedule to Kansas and Missouri, I think they will be very competitive. I think the North will be wide open.
Remember that Kansas loses all three starting linebackers and still plays that same South Division gauntlet in Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. And besides losing Chase Coffman, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin, Ziggy Hood, William Moore, Stryker Sulak, Tommy Chavis and others, Missouri also will likely have new offensive and defensive coordinators. And that's after having no staffing changes in eight seasons. I think it might be a little tougher for the Tigers than some Tiger fans might be expecting.
David Lasseter writes: Hey, Tim. You need to put down the crack pipe. You must be on something to predict a 5-7 record for Baylor. I will give you eight wins. They will go 4-0 by beating all their non-conference games. And they will go 4-4 in conference play. No way Nebraska beats them breaking in a new starter or Texas Tech breaking in a new quarterback with a suspect defense. Also, we're beating Iowa State and Texas A&M on the road. And we might get Oklahoma State and Missouri, too. I bet you dinner they go 8-4 and I will pay you if you lose.
Tim Griffin: David, I'm not supposed to bet my readers. But remember that Baylor does play in the South Division. All I can say is let's catch up before the start of the season. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts then.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Tim, I'm wondering about the wisdom of Coach Dan Hawkins' remarks. The 10-2 prediction, was it necessary? Was it wise? What happens if he does/doesn't achieve the goal?
Tim Griffin: Hawkins has definitely told the world he thinks his team will be a lot better in 2009 than 2008. A lot better.
I don't know if I would have made the comments in a public setting like Hawkins did. But he obviously is very confident his team will be much better. Hence, his pronouncement.
But he has put a lot of pressure squarely on him and his team.
Cecil Wilson writes: Hey Tim, how come no lunchtime links a couple of days earlier this week. I need my daily fix of Big 12 football. Still 7 1/2 months till kick off.
Tim Griffin: Sorry, Cecil. For a couple of days earlier this week my family and I went on a short vacation to New Mexico. I had to introduce my 4-year-old son to snow. He didn't like it.
But I can assure you the lunchtime links are back to stay. Thanks for planning your day around them -- and please keep reading them.
David from New York City writes: You are spot on about the Texas Longhorns having a chip on their shoulders about last season. I believe they are as talented as Oklahoma, but are so hungry and angry about the way OU got to the title game last season, they're taking it to the title game. What do you think?
Tim Griffin: I've got Texas as my favorite over the Sooners at this point heading into spring ball. My major reasons are Oklahoma's rebuilding offensive line and new safeties and Texas' hunger after how last season played out. I think these are the major contributing factors that make me rank them a little ahead of the Sooners.
Readers, as always thanks for all of the questions this week. I'll check back with you again next week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
An interesting sidelight following the settlement of Mike Leach's contract impasse will be his relationship with Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers.
The two were involved in contentious negotiations that weren't settled until Tech chancellor Kent Hance and Leach conducted one-on-one, 11th-hour negotiations Thursday afternoon.
"To put it mildly this has been a tough negotiation," Myers said. "It's been a tough time. It's good to get it behind us. It's done and we're pleased."
The dialogue didn't pick up until Myers and Leach's agents were left out of the bargaining.
"I said that I wanted Mike to be our coach," Myers said. "That got lost with the rhetoric and specifics of the negotiating process. But I never wavered on that point. I'm excited about our football team."
But it's clear that Leach has seldom been on the same page as Myers, a former basketball coach at the school who still holds the school record with 326 career victories.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Mike Leach's proclivity for gambling provided some levity during the tense contract negotiations Thursday afternoon with Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance.
"Mike has a great sense of humor," Hance said, chuckling. "I told him it was fourth-and-long and he said he went for it a lot. But I told him he didn't want to get sacked."
The contract meetings picked up after Leach and Hance met without other representatives present on Thursday.
"We had a good visit and he's a good guy," Hance said. "We had a long meeting, but the negotiating only lasted about 10 or 15 minutes."
Hance, a legendary West Texas politician who once beat former President George W. Bush in a congressional race in the 1970s, said the intense interest in negotiations was a little like politics.
"We've got a lot of great fans," Hance said. "I heard from some of them. It reminds me of my years in politics. They are a lot more vociferous after 10 or 11 at night, and their spelling isn't as good in their e-mails the later it goes."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Thursday's contract extension for Texas Tech coach Mike Leach was done with a flair for the dramatic that was almost as memorable as the Red Raiders' last-second landmark triumph over Texas last season.
|L. Scott Mann/Icon SMI|
|Texas Tech and coach Mike Leach agreed Thursday on a new deal.|
This time, there was no need for Michael Crabtree to make a late, game-winning catch in the final seconds. Leach took care of all that by himself.
After huddling for 2 1/2 hours Thursday afternoon with Tech chancellor Kent Hance, Leach and school officials emerged to announce the details of the contract.
Less than a day before Tech's board of trustees was set to potentially end his nine-season tenure coaching the Red Raiders, Leach's job status appears set for the next five seasons.
The financial terms of the $12.7 million contract weren't the real question. But the wording of the contract was, and Leach ended up with a clear victory.
The new agreement includes no buyout clause for Leach if he were to find another job. Tech's original offer included a clause that would have required him to pay $300,000 for each year remaining on the contract.
Leach now will have to notify Tech officials if he plans to interview for another job, but there will be no penalty for doing so.
Leach's concession came on the percentage of his contract that will be guaranteed. His new deal will provide $2 million of the total $12.7 million package, or about 16 percent. Tech had originally asked for 12 percent.
Both sides compromised on the last sticking point of the agreement. Leach will retain the rights to his likeness and income from books, movie deals and national speaking engagements.
The key for Leach came in the last 72 hours when he made a late blitz by appearing on countless national television and radio shows. His availability enabled him to get his story out while Tech officials retreated.
Public opinion turned decidedly during that period. A couple of disgruntled fans bought a full-page advertisement in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Wednesday, expressing their dismay with the school's handling of Leach's contract talks.
The deal's chances of happening also improved because Leach and Hance negotiated directly. Leach's agents, Gary O'Hagan and Matt Baldwin, were in Indianapolis to attend the NFL combine.
The new deal will now make Leach the third-highest paid coach in the Big 12 -- behind only Texas' Mack Brown and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops -- and should enable him to become the winningest coach in school history. Leach is tied for second place on the school's all-time list with 76 victories, six behind Spike Dykes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's hard to believe how things have changed at Texas Tech in less than four months.
On Nov. 1, the spotlight was focused on the school in remote West Texas with a national television broadcast, ESPN's College GameDay and all the rest. Members of the national media scrambled to unprecedented lengths to get to the Texas-Texas Tech game -- some flying from several hours away and driving across miles of Texas highways for a chance to watch the Big 12 South Division showdown.
|Douglas Jones/US Presswire|
|We may know more about Mike Leach's coaching future by the end of the week.|
The game didn't disappoint as Tech claimed a pulsating 39-33 comeback victory, capped by a game-winning catch by Michael Crabtree with one second left. It assuredly was the most memorable play of the season and might have been the biggest play in Big 12 history.
Those memories now seem like they happened years ago -- especially in the fallout of Texas Tech's announcement Tuesday that the school will conduct a teleconference of its board of regents to decide topics "including, but not limited to the position of the football head coach."
That doesn't sound like the group will be talking about Taylor Potts' ability to replace Graham Harrell, does it?
The board could accede to coach Mike Leach's wishes and grant him a $12.7 million, five-year contract extension. But it would be hard to believe they would go along with Leach's hopes on the wording and length of the buyout clause in his contract, his ownership of his personal property and naming rights, and how money from his speaking engagements would be divvied up.
It could let things lie as Leach has two years left on his existing contract. But that decision would cripple the school's recruiting after unprecedented recent success with the incoming class of 2009.
Or it could start the process of looking for Leach's replacement.
There really appears to be no middle ground. Either Leach's contract gets done to his wishes or he's out of there -- despite the most successful run in recent Tech history.
Amazingly, Leach could be fired by the end of the week -- despite matching the school single-season record for victories with an 11-2 record last season. The Red Raiders earned a share of their first Big 12 South Division title last season. And that's after taking Tech to the rarefied air of a No. 2 national ranking late last season.
Leach has directed the program to attendance and graduation rate records and a steadily escalating national public perception. The Red Raiders have been to nine bowl games during his nine-season tenure there. He was even the subject of a laudatory "60 Minutes" piece where he was called "The Mad Genius of College Football" for his unconventional strategy and his interest in pirates and history.
That national cachet hasn't been marketable in his own office where his contract talks have stalled. It appears it's more than money in this long-simmering personality battle between Leach, athletic director Gerald Myers and Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance.
Interestingly, Tech has just signed a multimillion-dollar sports marketing deal with Learfield Communications that will be worth at least $20.3 million to the school, providing rental of stadium suites and a new video screen at Jones AT&T Stadium. Tech was the last school in the Big 12 that outsourced its sports marketing business.
One of Learfield's biggest competitive rivals is IMG, a leading collegiate marketing and licensing company that also represents football coaches.
And one of IMG's top clients is Mike Leach -- making it understandable why the thought of a school-managed representation deal for Leach became such a contentious topic in his contract negotiations.
It was telling earlier this week when former Texas Tech running back coach Seth Littrell, considered Leach's top recruiter, left for a job on Mike Stoops' staff at Arizona.
Stoops' job security had been tenuous until a late run last season, capped by a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl.
But it appears that Littrell sees more stability among the saguaros in the desert on Stoops' staff than by staying on the High Plains working with Leach.
It all adds up to what should be a fascinating meeting on Friday for the trustees and an even more interesting result when the board finally makes its decision.
No predictions on the outcome here, but I'm guessing we might be seeing the end of those wild drives across the West Texas plains by my friends among the national football media corps.
And I wouldn't expect the Texas Tech band to be decked out again in their pirate regalia in a halftime tribute to their quirky coach anytime soon, either.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are some of the questions and e-mails I received this week.
J.D. writes: Hey Tim, what the heck is going on with Mike Leach and his contract extension? I haven't seen anything on it and I know it is seriously "brewing." What's up with it?
Tim Griffin: It's been strange how little information has been coming about Leach's contract negotiations the last several weeks. It seems like it's been squelched. Maybe that's been at the demand of either Texas Tech's chief negotiator, Chancellor Kent Hance, or Leach's agents. But considering how it was after the season when Graham Harrell came out and said he expected to see Leach leave, it's eerie how it's all quieted down.
Obviously, Leach's bargaining opportunities have been lessened because there are no college jobs still open. Unless Leach would make the jump to the NFL. The only way I would see that happening would be at the hands of an extremely maverick owner. So, it looks likely he will remain in Lubbock.
I guess this will be a prime discussion point as soon as the Red Raiders return back from the AT&T Cotton Bowl. At least, I would expect it to be.
Caleb from El Reno, Okla., writes: Tim, I read your top 30 moments for the Big 12 this season with great interest. Great idea and even a better article. How about the interception by defensive back Lamont Robinson for OU in the Texas end zone that was ruled incomplete and gave Texas a field goal? It could have been a huge momentum swing for OU to get the stop but instead Texas added three points.
Tim Griffin: Caleb, that was a huge play, but I had already included several more plays from that game. There seemed to be about 10-12 critical ones. Another one in hindsight I feel I should have included was Texas Tech nose tackle Colby Whitlock's safety on the first Texas play from scrimmage, giving the Red Raiders a quick 2-0 lead in the game. I also should have mentioned the kicking of Texas Tech walk-on specialist Matt Williams, who has made every one of his extra points since joining the team earlier this season.
Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Thanks a lot for answering my question about Colorado recruiting. I appreciate an insider's view. A follow-up question, though, is whether late recruiting is a good idea? Not only are too many top possibilities gone but recruiting has gone the other direction. Recruits are being sought earlier. Bob Davie has mentioned this over and over in his broadcasts. Coaches are seeking and players committing much earlier these days. Will Dan Hawkins have to change his philosophy or get left behind? Thanks.
Tim Griffin: I think that more and more players like you mention are being recruited earlier. It seems like the very best players are the ones included in this. But sometimes key players can emerge during their senior season in high school. So it isn't an absolute point. But typically, the best players go earliest -- kind of like the best clothes available being picked first at a post-holiday sale. And it would likely behoove Hawkins to become more of a competitor in these early recruiting jousts if he wants to claim the very best players he can.
Ben from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I recently had a discussion with some friends about who was the more valuable player for Nebraska between Joe Ganz and Zac Taylor. Obviously, Zac Taylor was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and led Nebraska to a spot in the Big 12 Championship game, but if you watched any Nebraska games this year it was clear that Joe Ganz was the heart of this team (and put up numbers comparable to Taylor's senior year). Who do you think was more valuable for their team?
Tim Griffin: I'm going to have to go along with Taylor, mainly because he led his team to the Big 12 championship game. Ganz had a great season and was just as good, if not better statistically, but Taylor had an innate sense of leading the Cornhuskers to victories with late remarkable plays. I remember the way he directed Nebraska to victories over Kansas and at Texas A&M during that 2006 season. Those two gutsy performances alone were a big reason why the Cornhuskers ended up winning the division title that season.
I'm betting that Bo Pelini would settle for a player who shares common characteristics with both Ganz and Taylor when he searches for a quarterback this spring to replace Ganz.
More questions and answers will be coming later this week. Keep them coming and have a Happy New Year's Day filled with many football games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's been well-chronicled by many sources that Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell got a raw deal when he was snubbed for a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy award.
But it ended up that Harrell got a pretty nice consolation price, nonetheless. Harrell, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, Leach's wife, Sharon, and Texas Tech assistant media relations director Blayne Beal got a private tour of the White House in Washington, D.C., and a 20-minute meeting with President George W. Bush.
The Red Raider entourage arrived when Bush was in the middle of his daily bicycle ride. He was so excited by their arrival that he stopped what he was doing to meet with him.
Bush and Leach share an interesting mutual acquaintance. Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance is the only person to ever beat Bush in a campaign when he defeated the president in a 1978 Congressional race from West Texas. Hance is also negotiating Leach's contract extension that still has not been worked out.
"[Bush] said, 'I talk to Hance a lot,'" Beal told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "And Mike said, 'I talk to him a lot, too.'"
Leach even broke his long-standing practice of discussing injuries when he told the president about Harrell's toughness when he talked about how Harrell played with broken fingers on his non-throwing hand in the Red Raiders' season-ending victory over Baylor.